Registered nurses at Washington DC’s largest hospital, Medstar Washington Hospital Center (MWHC), reached a tentative agreement with hospital officials Monday on a new contract that achieves significant patient care as well as economic improvements that nurses say will promote RN recruitment and retention. The four-year pact also protects RNs’ health coverage and retirement security. "Our new NNU contract will ensure that nurses have a mechanism for raising staffing and patient care concerns " said Erica Ward, a cardiac intensive care nurse and chair of the nurse-led Professional Practice Committee, elected by the RNs peers to represent them in talks with management on patient care issues. For the first time under the contract, the PPC will be able to address staffing concerns, a long time issue at the hospital. "Through a combination of guaranteed pay increases and bonuses, this contract settlement will help us recruit and retain experienced nurses who care for some of the regions sickest patients," added Stephanie Sims, a neonatal intensive care nurse and chief nurse representative at MWHC. Monday’s settlement, in the first meeting between RNs and hospital management in seven months, ends a festering dispute that had included a one-day strike in December that was followed by a nine-day lockout of the RNs. National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of National Nurses United, the largest U.S. organization of nurses, represents 1,900 RNs at MWHC. The RNs will hold membership meetings to Thursday and Friday to vote on the proposed contract.
When talks finally resumed Monday, substantial progress was made, say RNs, particularly on several critical areas affecting patient safety, and economic gains, as well as protecting the RNs health coverage and pensions.
One particularly notable gain is the hospital’s agreement to effectively end the practice of requiring nurses to work alternating night and day shifts, which significantly increases the danger of fatigue that can lead to medical errors and accidents. Under the pact, the hospital will post night only shifts, assuring the end of rotating shifts with all RNs able to count on consistent schedules.
Pay equity had been a substantial issue for RNs in a hospital where more than one-third of the nurses are new hires. Under the settlement agreement, all RNs will receive pay increases of up to 12.6 percent over the next four years, in addition to retention bonuses and other economic gains. That will go a long way, say nurses, in keeping experienced RNs at the bedside and recruiting new nurses to the hospital.
In other areas, the hospital agreed to:
- ensure that RNs can take uninterrupted meal breaks to remain fresh and alert,
- maintain lift equipment on every hospital floor so that patients can be safely moved, sharply reducing the threat of patient falls and accidents and debilitating nurse injuries, a major problem in healthcare that was profiled in an award winning NPR series earlier this year, and
-drop demands that the hospital be able to cut RN health coverage or pensions without the agreement of the nurses, an issue that has been a major battle with employers, including hospitals, across the country.