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Hospital not yet back to capacity

| Friday, April 12, 2002

Services at Butler Memorial Hospital probably won't be back to normal until the middle of next week, even though the nurses and the hospital agreed to a new three-year contract early Wednesday.

Most hospital services had been cut and most patients had been transferred to other hospitals in the region in anticipation of a possible strike by nurses Wednesday.

"We're not at full capacity by any stretch of the imagination," hospital spokesman John Righetti said Thursday. Righetti he said he expected the hospital to be at full capacity by Wednesday.

Negotiators for the nurse's union said a tentative agreement with hospital management was approved literally at "the 11th hour" of negotiations, early Wednesday morning.

That agreement was ratified by the nurses Wednesday afternoon, when it became effective.

The new contract calls for the average salary of a nurse at the 260-bed Butler Memorial Hospital this year to increase from $40,976 to $44,262 a year, or from $19.70 to $21.28 an hour, Righetti said.

Along with an 8 percent wage increase this year, there's a 6 percent increase next year and a 5 percent increase in the third year of the contract.

Additionally, the contract provides longevity bonuses of $300 in a one-time lump sum payment to nurses with 20, 25 and 30 years of service at the hospital, Righetti said.

Righetti said the total cost of the new package to the hospital has not yet been worked out.

"We hope that, with this contract, our nurses will work with us and assist, therefore, in recruiting even more nurses to work here," Righetti said in an earlier-released press statement.

During contract negotiations, the nurses union complained about a shortage of nurses at the hospital and the need for more effective recruitment and retention efforts.

Nurse negotiators said that during contract talks they were able to push for the creation of working committees, which will be made up of nurses and management, to look at developing better nurse-to-patient ratios, among other things. That concept was borrowed from the California Nurses Association.

Two years ago, unionized nurses at Butler Memorial Hospital, formerly represented by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, became part of what was then the new Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.

Tammy May, president of the Butler nurses union, said it's important that nurses and management work together to improve nursing care at Butler Memorial Hospital. Hospital officials agreed.

"While we already have a partnership with our nurses at BMH through our many nursing councils, this contract allows us to enhance that partnership with a closer working relations concerning staffing ratios," Righetti said.

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