Letters to the editor July 11

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Nurses uniting together

Nurses have a unique role in health care in that we are a frontline in care. A significant part of our training and vocation is advocating for patient care and safety.

The courage to speak up is one of the many challenges of being a nurse, yet it is our duty.

I am in favor of nurses being represented on a professional level and having a seat at the health-care table.

The push back, negativity and fear tactics against the nurses to unite and organize our knowledge, skill and experience perplexes me. I see it as a win-win for nursing, physicians, administration and our community. Nurses uniting together for our partnership, collaboration and collective bargaining is an opportunity rather than a barrier. It provides another safety net to organizational integrity and patient care. It is not about wages. It is about knowing patient care will not be compromised.

Making an informed decision has been important to me. Talking with union nurses from all over the states of Montana and Washington, including highly rated hospitals such as Harborview, has helped me to understand how organization promotes the health of a health-care community and improves patient to staff ratios, and that no strike clauses are an option nurses frequently choose.

Several years ago the hospital hired Joe Tye, a leader and authority in fostering a culture of ownership in health-care organizations. Each employee was gifted a copy of “The Florence Prescription, from Accountability to Ownership.”

One of my favorite quotes from this book is “To foster a culture of ownership, you must treat people like owners and not just employees, like they are partners in the enterprise and not just hired hands doing the work”.

The book stresses the emotional climate of an organization, what it feels like to be cared for here, and what it feels like to work here.

An author’s note from Joe Tye read, “What would Florence Nightengale tell us to do with our hospitals were she to return today. We believe she would tell us that the No. 1 job is to respark the purpose and mission that once did, and always should inspire people who have committed their professional lives to caring for others.”

—Lori Mitchell, Kalispell

Now is not the time

This week the nurses of Kalispell Regional Healthcare will make a monumental decision; is unionization under the Service Employees International Union in the best interest of nurses and the organization’s mission to provide the best quality of care? As a registered nurse with KRH for over 30 years, I would like to offer two points for the consideration of my co-workers.

First, I believe our new CEO, Dr. Craig Lambrecht, is both a capable administrator and an employee advocate. Not since CEO Velinda Stevens entered the final stages of breast cancer in 2015 has the organization had a CEO who possessed both of these qualities. Many nurses have not been employed at KRH long enough to see the impact that a quality CEO can have. Others of longer tenure may have forgotten; in the interim administration has not always given adequate consideration to the input of nurses.

Secondly, unionization adds personal expense for nurses, and an added layer of bureaucracy. Consider whether nearly $1,100 in union dues per nurse per year is necessary. Have nurses talked to administration when concerns were not addressed by immediate supervisors or by prior administrative team members? The SEIU has invested heavily in making numerous promises. It is in their best interest that the union vote succeeds. Representation of the KRH nurses could result in over $2 million in dues in a three-year contract period, as well as open other employee groups to lucrative union deals.

I would respectfully ask that nurses allow the new administrative team a year to address concerns. Quality of care and other issues raised by nurses should be addressed by administration. If in a year’s time adequate progress has not been made then the SEIU is free to begin a new campaign. Now is not the time.

—Helen Hammer, Kalispell

Not here, not yet

Nurses, let’s unite! We all agree there are issues we need to address and solve. But I submit to you, hiring SEIU, a big business (largest union in the nation) to do our negotiating is not the answer. Unions may have their place, but not here, not yet!

What we will be hiring are professional negotiators to represent our issues. There is no guarantee they will be successful. For example, the hospital in Conrad negotiated with the SEIU for three years and were unable to reach any agreements. There was no deal.

After many discussions with coworkers, it seems that some nurses have the false impression that our problems will be solved by union representation. But keep in mind, hospitals are a business, and so are unions. Both require sufficient funds to operate. The union needs dues to pay their employees and make a profit. Once we start paying dues, the union has a vested financial interest and if there are no positive results, it will be very difficult to decertify/remove the union from our hospital and regain our independence. This choice of electing the SEIU is an expensive decision and in no way can guarantee our desired results.

In light of Kalispell Regional’s new administration, I propose that we step back, take a deep breath and consider giving our new CEO and director of nurses a fair chance. We can form our own group of nurses that represent all areas of KRH, to meet with the CEO and director of nurses monthly. After one year, we will be able to evaluate progress. At this time, decide if hiring professional negotiators is necessary.

In conclusion, let’s not forget that the union’s ultimate bargaining tool is to threaten a strike. As a RN, I feel this is too drastic of a measure. We will then be forced to ask ourselves, “Are patients really our priority?”

—Shelly Morton, Kalispell

Give new administration a chance

KRMC went through a tsunami in the past couple of years with the untimely passing from breast cancer of legendary CEO Velinda Stevens followed closely by a federally bullied $24 million settlement for basically bringing Velinda’s vision of university-level medical care to the Flathead and Western Montana and creating thousands of jobs.

But anger about the painful fallout appears to be juicing a knee-jerk response, enabling another Washington, D.C. predator SEIU to pounce, and obscuring a stone cold fact. The number of rural acute care hospitals operating under an RN contract with SEIU local 1199NW while also maintaining their independence is — zero. All of 1199NW’s acute-care RNs work for large hospital chains, and the explanation doesn’t require rocket science. Apparently anticipating this sad consequence here, even SEIU public supporters are now resorting to newspaper finger-pointing to deflect future blame. But it will be a done deal.

Instead, how about giving new CEO Dr. Craig Lambrecht and new Chief Nursing Officer RN Ryan Pitts a real chance? Fundamentally, it’s always been the same with all of us. America is about receiving opportunity and then working really hard to deliver value to the surrounding community. It’s not about angrily and hastily bringing in yet another money-extracting Washington, D.C. gorilla to crush a recovering but still vulnerable community linchpin. Craig and Ryan and our Flathead deserve more than the previous two months to straighten some real problems out.

— Dr. Andy Palchak, Kalispell

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