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Backus Hospital nurses go on strike

The union says they have been in negotiations, trying to resolve issues involving patient care, workplace safety, and recruitment and retention.

NORWICH, Conn. — Tuesday, nurses from Backus Hospital in Norwich walked off the job and went on strike.

This is part of a two-day labor strike. The nurses were joined by union representatives and Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02).

The union said they had been in negotiation for months and have been trying to resolve issues that involved patient care, workplace safety, recruitment, and retention.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health said they are  monitoring health and safety standards for patients at Backus Hospital in Norwich following the  strike. "According to state and federal laws, DPH has two primary responsibilities related to labor actions at acute care hospitals. Those include 1) ensuring adequate replacement nurse staffing due to the strike; and 2) to conduct random, daily monitoring visits to Backus Hospital during the strike to ensure that quality standards for safety and patient care are being upheld despite the labor action. As part of the inspection process, DPH inspectors are reviewing staffing, observe patient care, review medical records and ensure that adequate supplies are available."

Angela Leroux a registered nurse and the Treasurer of one of the local unions says,” We’ve been having to reuse our PPE and put them in brown paper bags. They hospital says they have plenty, but they still require us to reuse it”

Union representatives said it has been a challenging year for nurses and the pandemic has played a role in that. Just recently the state determined that an outbreak at Three Rivers Nursing Home in Norwich had spread to the staff at Backus Hospital.

Shannon Pereira, one of the nurses at Backus Hospital, says she is one of many staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19.  Pereira was out sick for a month while she recovered.

“We had an outbreak in my unit. There were multiple staff members that tested positive. And I was one of the last ones diagnosed. I never took care of a patient who was positive on the floor so reasonably working in quarters with reused PPE that is not protecting us sufficiently,” says Pereira.

President of Backus Hospital Donna Handley said she believes they have done everything to avoid a strike and that they had met at least 19 times to try and reach an agreement.

Read a statement from President Handley:

"The union representing nurses at Backus Hospital has decided to move forward with a two-day strike, starting Tuesday morning.

This is heartbreaking. The hospital has made every effort to avoid a strike. Over the course of 23 bargaining sessions, and using federal mediators, we have continually addressed issues important to both the union and to the hospital:

· Personal protective equipment (PPE)

· Staffing

· Additional accommodations for breastfeeding

We have worked to reach an agreement that advances our nurses and increases wages and benefits. Our offer includes:

· Significant wage increases for all RNs over the three-year contract, amounting to 12.5% over three years

· Additional paid time off for 82% of nurses — with no nurse losing any paid time off

· Reducing the cost of healthcare premiums by 2%

Additionally:

· We offered to retain daily overtime for nurses — paying overtime wages for hours worked over 8 in one shift, as opposed to 40 in one week.

· We retained jobs at a time when other healthcare employers have laid off or furloughed nurses and other staff.

· We provided staff with additional paid time off during the pandemic and other support including a special COVID response payment, housing and a colleague assistance fund to support those in financial need.

In all of these and other ways, Backus Hospital has shown that we respect our nurses, we are prepared to find common ground, and we want to reach agreement on a fair contract.

The union, unfortunately, is prepared to strike, causing an unprecedented degree of disruption during an unprecedented health crisis.

I have heard directly from nurses telling me that this is not what they want. I have heard from members of our community who are understandably concerned, especially as we are dealing with an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

I apologize for the concern that I know this is creating for our hospital, our nurses and our community. We remain firmly committed to reaching a reasonable agreement. And while I am confident that both the hospital and the union ultimately will do so, now we are focused on the important work to be prepared to care for our patients.

During this two-day period, Backus Hospital will remain open and programs and services will remain accessible to our community. We will continue to be safe, ready and prepared to care for those who rely on us.

Donna Handley, RN, BSN, MA

President, Backus Hospital"