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Fawcett nurses picket for contract

By LIZ HARDAWAY

STAFF WRITER

What do they want? A contract. When do they want it? Now.

As the sun crept sluggishly overhead, 30 registered nurses at Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte rallied together Tuesday morning on the sidewalk of Olean Boulevard demanding the hospital comply with its own staffing grid.

In January, Fawcett’s oncology unit was out of compliance with their staffing grid 50 percent of the time, while the medical surgical unit was out of compliance 42 percent of the time, according to a press release from the National Nurses Organizing Committee.

An attempt to obtain a response from Fawcett on these allegations was not immediately successful Tuesday.

Each nurse is supposed to be assigned an average of six patients, said Clarissa Williams, a nurse in Fawcett’s medical surgery unit. Each floor has roughly 30 to 35 patients.

“We work as a team,” Williams said. “Every employee gives their very best.”

“We’re urging our hospital to invest in the nursing staff because it is vital for quality care,” said Gary Mousseau, a registered nurse for Fawcett’s endoscopy unit.

Since May 31, 340 registered nurses of the hospital have been working without an employment contract.

Gary Mousseau, a registered nurse at the endoscopy unit for Fawcett Hospital, has been a nurse for 37 years. “It becomes who you are,” he said.

SUN PHOTO BY LIZ HARDAWAY

The 100-page document, which previously outlined benefits, guidelines and working conditions the hospital would have to comply with, has expired and nurses are hoping to negotiate a new contract that is “at least that good,” if not better, Mousseau said.

Registered nurses at Fawcett are members of the National Nurses Organizing Committee Florida division, which is helping the nurses negotiate their contract with the hospital.

Fawcett Memorial Hospital is a for-profit hospital owned by the Hospital Corporation of America.

“We are optimistic that these discussions will be wrapped up in a timely manner,” said Debra McKell, the director of marketing for HCA West Florida Division, the hospital’s parent company.

Nurses participating in the informational picket Tuesday chanted slogans, some in their royal blue scrubs, with passersby honking their horns. Boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts and informational fliers sat on a fold-out table at the base of the sidewalk near the hospital’s entrance, with nurses thrusting their “safe staffing saves lives” and “nurses standing up for our patients” signs in the air.

According to the press release, over 60 percent of the registered nurses have worked at the hospital for less than three years and over a third have worked there less than 18 months. This information was obtained through information requests the nurses received, the release said.

“We want to be more able to give patients optimal care,” June Phillips, a registered nurse at the spine/orthopedic unit at Fawcett, said. Phillips is part of the 16 percent of nurses who have been with the hospital for ten years or more.

Nurses are hopeful that they can achieve a new contract that ensures appropriate staffing that enforces the hospital’s own staffing guidelines, improved workplace violence prevention policies and procedures and that the hospital shares its increased revenue with registered nurses, according to a flier that nurses handed out.

“We’re urging our hospital to invest in the nursing staff because it is vital for quality care,” said Mousseau.

Nurses also want the contract to foster “recruitment and retention of experienced nurses in our community by raising (registered nurse) wages to the national average,” the flier the group handed out Tuesday stated.

The average annual wage for a registered nurse is $73,550, or $35.36 an hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Fawcett has earned the 2018 Healthgrades Patient Safety Excellence award, “placing our hospital in the top 5 percent in the nation for patient safety,” representatives of the hospital said Tuesday in a statement. The hospital has also received the Readers’ Choice Award from the Sun for “Best Hospital” and “Best ER” for more than 10 years in a row.

“These honors are in direct correlation to the dedication of Fawcett Memorial Hospital’s care team and the high quality of care we provide,” the statement said.

“It is unfortunate, but not unusual, to see tactics like this when a union and an employer are engaged in contract negotiations, as we are with this union,” Fawcett Memorial Hospital said in a statement Tuesday. “We want to ensure that our community understands that neither these tactics, nor any other action, will ever come between our commitment to the high quality care and services we offer our patients on a daily basis and this community.”

“The best way we can show our patients that we love them is by doing what we do really, really well,” Mousseau said. “And if we’re skillful and compassionate we can make a difference in our neighbors’ lives. That’s what we’re here for.”

Due to the federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act passed in 2017, which reduced the corporate tax rate from a maximum 35 percent to a flat rate of 21 percent, HCA Healthcare Chairman and CEO R. Milton Johnson said the company estimates its cash taxes were reduced about $500 million for the year as a result of the law, HealthLeaders Media reported in February.

Email: lhardaway@sun-herald.com

Registered nurses at Fawcett Hospital picketed Tuesday for a new employment contract.

SUN PHOTOS BY LIZ HARDAWAY

A dog named Gertrude wore a sign for her owner, who is a registered nurse at Fawcett.

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