CHS fires back at nurses union

Company says ‘contrived’ campaign is attempt to force Ohio bargaining sessions resolution

Community Health Systems is firing back at a media campaign launched Monday that questions the hospital operator’s treatment of nurses. In a statement, CHS spokeswoman Tomi Galin called the unions’ efforts a “publicity stunt.”

A half-page print advertisement critical of CHS appeared today in The Tennessean. The campaign also includes targeted “informational picketing” at CHS-owned hospitals around the country and a television advertisement critical of CHS and supportive of nurses that will air this week in Northeast Ohio, where CHS runs four hospitals. A website, chswatch.org, also went live today.

‘The campaign by the National Federation of Nurses is a contrived and desperate attempt to place pressure on collective bargaining taking place between the Ohio Nurses Association (the new affiliate of the National Federation of Nurses) and Northside Medical Center in Youngstown,” Galin said. “The parties have been engaged in collective bargaining for several months and have held at least five bargaining sessions since last September, three of them this year.”

In addition, Galin said CHS officials believe the campaign’s launch has been coordinated with California Nurses Association demonstrations at some of its hospitals in other states.

Galin said Northside is among the top 5 percent of 4,500 hospitals nationwide for clinical care.

“Our organization’s commitment to quality, safe, compassionate care is always our top priority,” she said. “We also place great importance on our relationships with the employees across our organization. We respect the right and ability of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to be represented by a union, and we work to treat all employees in the same, fair manner because they are trusted partners in care. In turn, our organization enjoys a very high employee satisfaction rate of 85 percent.”

Eric Williams, president of the local Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association and a nurse at Northside in Youngstown, said the current pay scale there is below the national average. Williams said the nurses in Youngstown have gone seven years without a raise and have been recently offered a “concessionary” pay package that lowers pay and benefits.

“We honestly believe that CHS is more concerned with the financial bottom line than it is with patient care,” Williams said. “Conditions are as bad now as any time they’ve been in my 28-year career.”

Galin counters that claim.

“The ONA is saying that nurses at Northside have not received a raise in seven years,” she said. “It is true that the base rate has not increased, but that was set in place as part of concessions made under the previous owner during a period of extreme financial struggle and, ultimately, bankruptcy proceedings. At the time of the acquisition in 2010, nurses (and other employees) at the hospital were provided a $4,000 bonus as a goodwill gesture. In 2011, at the ONA’s request, the hospital extended the contract an additional year, with pay rates remaining in place.”

But the union groups are sticking steadfastly to their protest.

“We are very concerned,” Williams said. “We’re seeing the experience rate for nurses dropping to entry level. Patient outcomes drop when you don’t have enough senior-level nurses. The pay levels are not fair, and we believe nurses need a stronger voice. We believe an injustice is being done.”

Galin said about 8,000 of CHS’s 96,000 are represented by various unions.