Nurses at Oahu medical center vote to strike over safety

HONOLULU — Nurses have voted to authorize a strike over concerns that management practices have endangered staff and patients at an Oahu hospital.

Many of the nurses said the hospital’s protocols put staff and patients at unnecessary risk for exposure to COVID-19.

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The Hawaii Nurses’ Association said an unprecedented 96% of its membership voted, with 93% approving the strike at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

“The nurses have spoken,” Hawaii Nurses’ Association President Daniel Ross said. “It is very clear they feel the hospital has left them no choice but to take this action to protest Kapiolani management’s disregard for our concerns and the hospital’s continued unfair labor practices.”

The hospital’s management has been in negotiations for weeks with representatives of about 725 employees.

The deadline for a strike vote was midnight Saturday. A date for the beginning of the strike has not been announced.

The contract demands put forth by the nurses seek safe conditions for staff and patients, Ross said.

“Having to reuse N95 masks and caring for both COVID and non-COVID patients during the same shift has begun to erode morale and adversely impact the emotional health and well-being of the nurses,” Ross said.

Martha Smith, the medical center CEO and executive vice president of Oahu Operations for Hawaii Pacific Health, said in a Jan. 5 statement that the hospital agreed to reduce the number of times N95 masks are sanitized and reissued to three, despite current practices that follow guidance from the manufacturer and the federal Centers for Disease Control.

The medical center also made a settlement offer with 5% wage increases over a three-year contract, in addition to paid time-off enhancements and the continued payment of 100% of healthcare costs for nurses with single coverage, among other benefits, Smith said.

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Smith expressed disappointment the nurses’ association “would not present our offer to the nurses and our nurses were not given the opportunity to formally review or vote on this offer.”

Smith’s statement, which preceded the strike vote, said hospital representatives planned to meet again with the association and a federal mediator Jan. 13.

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