KAILUA-KONA — As negotiations continue for a new contract between The Queen’s Health Systems and the nurses of North Hawaii Community Hospital, the president of the Hawaii Nurses Association says there are still some issues that need resolving, even as management is preparing to come back with its final offer.
And those issues, he said, could affect the safety of hospital staff and patients.
“We’re not asking for the sky,” said Dan Ross, president of the Hawaii Nurses Association. “We’re asking for equitable treatment.”
The union represents the majority of Hawaii’s private-sector nurses with approximately 5,000 members throughout the state.
It also represents the approximately 75 nurses at North Hawaii Community Hospital, a 35-bed facility in Waimea that became a part of The Queen’s Health Systems in January 2014.
The most recent contract for the hospital’s nurses, which went into effect in October 2015, ended last month. Ross said that at the last negotiations session with management on Friday, management said it would issue a “last, best and final” offer at the next meeting.
Ross said it’s premature to talk about what would happen if management doesn’t budge, but he said they’re hopeful management will “make some reasonable compromises.”
That meeting was tentatively scheduled for this Friday, but as it falls on Good Friday, it’s been rescheduled to April 26.
In a statement, North Hawaii Community Hospital president Cindy Kamikawa said the tone of its meetings with the Hawaii Nurses Association is both “professional and respectful.”
“We value our employees as they are the heart of our organization,” she said, “and we appreciate all that they do and how each of them brings our mission to life with every interaction they have with our patients and their loved ones.”
The Queen’s Health Systems declined further comment.
But Ross pointed to five issues, including mandatory on-call criteria, staffing guidelines and pay equity, that they still want to see addressed in the contract.
In regard to issues like mandatory on-call, Ross said nurses aren’t objecting to it altogether, but want to see set guidelines.
“They’re not even saying that they’re not willing to do on-call,” Ross said. “They want to put some rules around it. They want to have some criteria that governs it.”
Likewise, he said, nurses accept that floating among departments is necessary.
“They recognize that sometimes there’s a need in a specialty area, and because of the staffing issues that they have, the recruitment issues, they may not have the nurses for it, and they’re perfectly willing to go and help out,” he said. “But all they’ve asked for in their proposal is if they’re floated to a specialty area that they’re not trained for, that they’re not given a patient assignment.”
Instead, he said, they’ve asked that they be assigned to task nursing, in which nurses assist without having a patient directly assigned to them.
Nurses are also advocating for more equitable pay. The current job rate at North Hawaii Community Hospital is $47.45 an hour, about $11 less than the $58.46 an hour at The Queen’s Medical Center, said Ross.
Ross said they aren’t insisting on the same rate, just something that shows management is closing the gap.
“The reason why the pay is important is because they need to be able to recruit and retain the staff out there,” he said. “That’s why they’re having to mandate overtime and mandate on-call: because they don’t have the staff. So it’s a big circle.”
Ross said these are issues that are for the most part met to nurses’ satisfaction in Honolulu, and nurses at the Waimea hospital feel as though they’ve been disrespected and told they aren’t as good as nurses in that city.
“Which is ridiculous,” said Ross. “There’s a lot more challenges in working in a community hospital.”
Ross, who is a nurse at The Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu, said in city facilities, he’s got backup available.
“I can push a button and help is there immediately. We’ve got all the backup in the world,” he said. “Out in a rural place like North Hawaii, they’re on their own. They don’t have that much help.”
And the points they’re still trying to get in the contract, he said, are ones that go to patient and staff safety at the hospital.
“We want North Hawaii Community Hospital to be a functioning, safe and effective hospital for the community to get their care, their health care needs taken care of,” Ross said. “And with these staffing issues, we feel that it’s impinging on patient safety.”