Carson-Tahoe Hospital nurses seeking a union separate from their employee association say they want the change to raise the quality of care for patients.
"What we see happening is our staff kept at a minimum with too many patients per nurse," said one nurse who asked not to be identified. "The quality of care goes down when you can't spend enough time with your patient. Our staff is proficient. We're exceptional nurses. We don't have the time we need to spend with patients and the public is being slighted on that.
We are dedicated and committed to providing the best service, and it's very frustrating to think we can't give that level of care. Our ultimate concern is patient safety."
Union representative Pete Ford, Operation Engineers Local Union No. 3, said about 65 percent of the roughly 200 nurses at Carson-Tahoe have signed a petition seeking to carve a separate bargaining unit away from the hospital's other employees. The effort comes after nurses at Washoe Medical Center and Elko General Hospital unionized this year while nurses at St. Mary's Regional Health Center opted against it. Union representative Steve Moler said nurses throughout the country are seeking union help in bargaining.
Hospital nurses are represented by an employee association in which hospital employees bargain for their fellow employees. Ford said by unionizing, nurses get professional representation.
"Nurses would be assured of getting their needs addressed because our main concern would be the nurses," Ford said. "Their issues and concerns aren't being completely addressed by the employee association and would be better addressed by an outside bargaining agency. It's a sign, though. Changing bargaining units is not taken lightly."
The nurses contract expires in June 2000, but new contract negotiations could begin November. Signatures are still being collected, Ford said. The petition must be reviewed by hospital administration and if they disagree, the petition will go before the state's Employees Relations Management Board.
"Officially, we haven't received a formal request," Chief Nursing Officer Cathy Dinauer said. "We'll deal with it and in the appropriate manner when we do."
Hospital Trustee Chairwoman Jo Saulisberry said she unaware nurses felt the quality of care had dropped.
"I don't know what kind of care the patients are getting unless somebody tells me," Saulisberry said. "You can't fix things you don't know about."
Several other nurses, also asking not to be identified, wrote that with a lower nurse-to-patient ratio, patients would have better care and the stress nurses face would lessen.
"In order to deliver real nursing care it is imperative that we become emotionally attached to the patient and thereby act as their advocate," a nurse wrote. "To give you a peek inside of a nurse's head: imagine being stretched to the limit and running behind. Despite all efforts of efficient time management, a simple thing such as a phone call from a concerned relative, one short supply, or one new medicine order to research further reduces the amount of time you are allowed to give your patients to ensure that their medications and treatments (the bare necessities) are delivered on time. What other profession spends so much of their time in tears? How many other hospitals have lost as many nurses to burnout as we have?"
Nurses said they are too thinly stretched on a daily basis to allow them to operate efficiently and safely. They say they are not seeking a pay raise.
"The association thinks that all we are interested in is higher pay and better benefits and are talking about renegotiating our contract earlier than scheduled to help retain the nursing staff as such," a nurse wrote. "Quality patient care is our main focus! Staffing needs to be addressed for safe levels. The 'association' that represents nurses at this time at Carson-Tahoe Hospital does not address these issues when negotiating our contract."