The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 4, 2013

Nurses picket Greenbrier Valley Medical Center

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

FAIRLEA — Nearly a dozen registered nurses lined a strip of land between Greenbrier Valley Medical Center and Route 219 Tuesday afternoon, protesting what they say is the unwillingness of the hospital’s management to negotiate a labor contract with them.

“This hospital made $15 million last year,” said RN Tracey Paxton, one of the picketers. “We don’t think it’s too much to ask that they provide the equipment we need to do our jobs. We need to be at our patients’ bedsides, not trying to find another IV pole or blood-pressure cuff.”

In addition to equipment shortages, Paxton said, nurses have no guarantee when they arrive for work that staffing will be adequate for the number of patients on their floor during any given shift.

“We’re often under-staffed, which endangers our patients,” said Paxton, who works the hospital’s third floor. A resident of the nearby Covington, Va., area, Paxton has been employed by the 122-bed Greenbrier Valley Medical Center (GVMC) for two years.

The reason she and others resorted to picketing GVMC Tuesday, Paxton said, is to inform the public of the need for the hospital to negotiate a contract with registered nurses.

“We want them to set a patient-nurse ratio and put that in a contract,” Paxton said. “We want a guarantee there’s enough staff for us to be able to give our patients the kind of care they deserve.”

Passing motorists honked their horns in support of the picketers, who chanted and waved signs bearing such messages as “Safe staffing saves lives” and “Respect RN rights.”

The informational pickets set up at GVMC Tuesday afternoon were part of a larger labor action taking place simultaneously in four states — California, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Organizers said the protests were expected to affect more than 1,400 registered nurses at seven Community Health Systems (CHS) hospitals, including Greenbrier Valley.

The second-largest for-profit hospital chain in the U.S., CHS has been sanctioned by federal judges and the National Labor Relations Board, according to a media advisory issued by the National Nurses United Press.

The NNUP said the unified effort Tuesday was designed to protest “the failure of CHS executives to address widespread concerns about patient safety and cuts in patient services,” as well as to bring attention to “economic and workplace fairness” issues confronting nurses.

“At multiple CHS hospitals RNs are alarmed at what they see as serious safety violations as a result of unsafe staffing and the refusal of hospital officials to discuss how to secure protections for patients,” the advisory maintained.

Among the nurses quoted in the union’s advisory was Beverly Hubbard, another RN employed at GVMC.

“Since the union election, RNs have made some improvements in staffing,” Hubbard is quoted as saying. “However, there is still a lot of work to be done, and CHS refuses to respect nurses and bargain with us.”

Asked for a response to the union’s complaints, GVMC responded with the following statement: “Greenbrier Valley Medical Center is committed to providing high-quality health services for our community and professional, safe care for our patients. We appreciate the many wonderful caregivers on our team and all that they do to provide excellent care for patients.

“We staff our hospital according to the number and needs of the patients in our care. Our hospital has a strong and continuous emphasis on quality and safety.”

Nurses also picketed GVMC and other CHS hospitals in March, citing the same grievances that they aired Tuesday. According to Greenbrier Valley officials, fewer than 10 people participated in that round of picketing in Fairlea.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com