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Petaluma Valley Hospital to continue serving patients during nurses’ strike

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Leaders of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital assure the community that the hospital will continue to meet the needs of its patients and their families during a two-day strike this week called by the Staff Nurses’ Association (SNA). The union, which represents approximately 660 registered nurses employed by Santa Rosa Memorial, has notified the hospital of its plan to conduct a strike starting at 5 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, and ending at 5 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.

“In keeping with our mission, our community can count on us to continue providing the high-quality, safe, compassionate care that our patients expect and deserve,” said Rhonda R. Foster, EdD, MPH, MS, RN, NEA-BC, Chief Nursing Officer at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. “The union’s actions will in no way distract from our focus on serving patients, their loved ones, and health care partners throughout the region who rely on us.”

The hospital has contracted with an agency to provide highly qualified and experienced replacement nurses to ensure uninterrupted patient care, which is standard industry practice during a nursing strike. The agency through which these replacement nurses were hired required a four-day minimum contractual commitment to secure their services. This means the replacement nurses will be working at the hospital for four days, starting the day of the strike. Most nurses who choose to strike would return to work Saturday, October 6, or on their next regularly scheduled shift thereafter.

Acute care services will continue to be offered with no interruption at the hospital this week. St. Joseph Health will temporarily close two of its Urgent Care centers – in Rohnert Park and Windsor – and will treat all local patients Tuesday and Wednesday during the strike out of its Santa Rosa Urgent Care, located at Sebastopol Road and Corporate Center Parkway. The Santa Rosa Urgent Care will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. All three Urgent Cares will be open, as usual, starting Thursday morning, Oct. 4, and striking nurses would be called back to staff those centers as needed.

Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital has not experienced a nursing strike since 1986. The hospital’s bargaining team worked diligently to avoid a strike this week, and worked with the facilitation of a federal mediator throughout last week and the weekend in hopes of coming to resolution with the SNA over terms of a new contract. The union’s existing contract expired at midnight Sunday, September 30. Unresolved issues include but are not limited to proposals involving wage increases, on-call and shift differential pay, and medical benefits. The SNA’s latest proposal of a 10% wage increase over two years, for example, is significantly out of line with current economic trends confronting U.S. health care providers as reimbursements decline sharply under health care reform.

“We’re very disappointed that we could not come to a mutually acceptable agreement with the union, and look forward to resuming negotiations soon on behalf of our valued nurses,” said Debra Miller, Vice President of Human Resources. “We are committed to providing just wages and benefits to our registered nurses. Yet we, like other U.S. employers, must also find ways to de-escalate significant increases in payroll and benefits expenses. With health reform’s impact on our reimbursement and local employers looking increasingly to lower their health insurance costs, we must find ways to save while continuing to fairly compensate our highly skilled RNs and staff.”

At the bargaining table, hospital administrators shared with union representatives several reports documenting the fiscal challenges facing hospitals throughout California. This includes a September 2012 report released by the American Nurses Association (ANA), American Hospital Association (AHA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) that references $11 billion in new Medicare cuts that hospitals in California face due to Congress’s mandate to sequester (or block) federal funding. This reduction in reimbursement adds to more than $17 billion in losses in Medicare payments that California hospitals will absorb under the Affordable Care Act.

“We respect and value our registered nurses, and are committed to working hard to reach a realistic compromise that balances honoring our nurses and the essential role they play with the long-term financial challenges facing the hospital,” said Todd Salnas, President of St. Joseph Health, Sonoma County, which owns and operates Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

“Throughout our organization, we continue to explore and implement a wide variety of process improvements and cost-control measures to ensure we can serve our communities for years to come,” he said. “We look forward to getting this strike behind us and resuming good-faith negotiations on behalf of our valued nurses, with whom we share an unwavering commitment to the community.”

Media advisory: reporters are invited from 11-11:45 a.m. Pacific Time, Tuesday, October 2, 2012, to dial in to the following conference call with questions for Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital leadership: 800-582-8980, passcode *5221510*

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