As talks stall, Cambridge nurses rally for safe care

Nurses stage informational picketing outside Cambridge Medical Center, raising awareness of staffing cuts that, nurses say, threaten patient safety.

Nurses stage informational picketing outside Cambridge Medical Center, raising awareness of staffing cuts that, they say, threaten patient safety.

CAMBRIDGE – Nurses at Cambridge Medical Center picketed the hospital today, warning the public that looming staff cuts pose a threat to patient safety.

Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association called on Allina Health, which operates the Cambridge facility, to put patients over profits in contract negotiations that began Sept. 30, when management opened the nurses’ contract.

The hospital is seeking greater flexibility in determining nurses’ schedules, looking to eliminate “block scheduling” and contract language that uses seniority to determine weekend shifts.

But nurses at the picket said the hospital hasn’t offered anything in return. Instead, management announced plans to lay off at least five nurses in January 2015 and reduce hours for 95 percent of those who remain.

Katie Williams is a member of the MNA's negotiating team at Cambridge Medical Center.

Katie Williams is a member of the MNA’s negotiating team at Cambridge Medical Center.

Katie Williams, a registered nurse in the maternity unit and member of the MNA’s negotiations team, said fewer nurses taking care of more patients at one time takes away nurses’ ability to provide patients the care they deserve. Staffing in her unit, she said, will drop from 17 nurses per day, spread over three shifts, down to 11.

“It’s way too big a cut,” Williams said. “As nurses, we need to be able to take care of our patients safely. That’s why we’re here today.”

Members of the community have taken note of nurses’ concerns. Many joined the picket line this afternoon and took part in a vigil for safe patient care later in the evening.

Nurses have taken an active role in sharing their concerns about patient safety – and their position in contract talks – with the public, going door-to-door to talk with residents of Cambridge and neighboring Isanti.

Residents, in turn, are showing their support for nurses by putting up lawn signs – more than 200 in the area – backing the nurses’ contract campaign.

Leanne Reichel, a emergency room nurse with 27 years of experience at Cambridge Medical Center, said nurses decided to take up the door-to-door canvass after growing tired of reading management’s public-relations spin in their community newspapers.

“I’ve been through a lot of these contract negotiations, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Reichel said. “We’ve always managed to work through it, to work with our administration.

“They say they want flexibility, but they don’t want to work with the provisions that already exist in our contract at all. It’s just whatever they want, they’re trying to take it.”

The two sides have met three times since the hospital opened nurses’ contract Sept. 30, and a mediation session is scheduled for Dec. 4. Williams is not optimistic management will change its approach.

“They’re not willing to give,” she said. “They just want to take.”

The MNA represents about 170 nurses at Cambridge Medical Center.

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