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Hospital, Nurses Exchange Barbs
Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, May 18, 1998

        Times Argus Staff

- As the Copley Hospital nurses' strike continues, with no indication either side is willing to be the first to blink, a media war has begun with each side finding fault with the other.

   Late last week the Copley Hospital Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals issued a press release stating it had received a steady stream of complaints concerning the quality of patient care under the team of temporary nurses. They refer to them as "rental nurses."

   The strike began on April 30 and negotiations collapsed after 90 minutes on May 7.

   "The serious nature of the complaints should raise red flags to Copley Hospital administrators about the inferior level of care patients are receiving," said Sue Lucas, a registered nurse and president of the local union.

   One example cited by union members was an incident last week where a Copley patient reportedly was given insulin, despite the fact she was not a diabetic. After being discharged, the patient returned to the hospital complaining of sickness. Only then was the error discovered.

   In another case, a patient admitted to the hospital's special care unit with a mini-stroke went untreated for a full hour. The patient was preparing to leave when he was aided by a nurse and persuaded to remain at the hospital.

But, while acknowledging such scenarios are accurate, hospital officials continue to defend the expertise of the temporary nurses, pointing out that such mistakes occasionally occur at all hospitals, under any nursing staff.

   The rate of error at Copley has not risen since the strike began, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

   The nurses union last week also released a list of the U.S. Nursing Corp. nurses currently employed at Copley, including the nurses' names and home towns. Included in the release is a collection of past incidents that question the ability and professionalism of UPS Nursing Corp. employees.

   Striking nurses have also criticized the salaries of the temporary nurses, which are estimated to be nearly three times as much as the hospital's regular nurses receive.

   Hospital officials, meanwhile, say the unionized nurses should be grateful the hospital is using temporary nurses rather than hiring full-time replacements.

   Last week the Copley Hospital Board of Trustees issued an open letter to the community, expressing support for the hospital's administration and maintaining that the striking nurses' demands pose a threat to the basic mission of the hospital.

   The striking nurses' chief grievances surround what has become known as the "resource pool," a hospital practice that allows nurses to work in several different areas of the hospital as needs arise.

   Union members say such a practice removes nurses from their individual areas of expertise and jeopardizes patient well-being.

   A federal mediator will arrive in Morrisville Wednesday to seek an end to the impasse. A bargaining session will begin at 11 a.m. at the Plaza Hotel.