Yakima Regional nurses picket over contract talks

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YAKIMA — Nurses from Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center picketed in front of the hospital Wednesday in hopes of raising community awareness of issues with contract negotiations they say could impact patient safety.

The nurses were protesting cutbacks proposed by Regional's Florida-based parent company Health Management Associates.

Spokeswoman Heather Weiner from the Washington State Nurses Association said HMA wants to reduce nurses' sick time and paid leave, while also shortening the time nurses have off between shifts. The company is also asking nurses to "float" more between several departments, which Weiner said affects continuity of care.

In addition, HMA wants to reduce funding for nurses to go out of town to medical conferences to learn about new nursing techniques and procedures.

Weiner said that leaving nurses without adequate time between shifts or enough sick leave could result in a lower level of patient care, which nurses see as a safety concern.

The nurses' contract expired at the end of March this year, and they have been in regular talks with administration and HMA executives since before then. There is no estimate for when a new contract agreement will be reached.

While hospital administrators would not comment specifically on ongoing contract negotiations, they did release a statement:

"Yakima Regional is committed to providing each patient with high quality care in a safe environment. While we remain focused on serving the health care needs of our community, we are currently in collective bargaining negotiations with the WSNA.

"The parties will resume negotiations on June 25 and 26, 2013, with the assistance of an experienced federal mediator. We remain confident that the parties will soon reach a contract that is fair to our nurses, the hospital and the community we serve."