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Rice Hospital nurses say contract concessions could affect workforce

WILLMAR — Rice Memorial Hospital nurses represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association say they are deeply concerned about the tone set by hospital management’s concessionary proposals made in negotiations with nurses represented by the association.

“The underlying message delivered indicates a disrespect for the value nurses provide in delivering quality care to our friends and family,’’ said Carolyn Jorgenson, a registered nurse and certified women’s health care nurse practitioner.

Jorgenson, a member of the nurses association’s board of directors, and registered nurse Nicole Mages spoke during the Willmar City Council’s open forum Monday night. They were among about 40 nurses and supporters at the meeting.

Jorgenson said she believes Rice, which is city-owned, has some of the most dedicated, intelligent and professional nurses and staff she has ever worked with and said patients get the best nursing care around. But Jorgenson said she was concerned things could change quickly.

She cautioned that should the proposals take effect, the consequences to the community could be dire. Jorgenson did not describe the proposals, but said the concessions could force nurses to leave because the hospital no longer offers a competitive wage and benefit package.

“When seeking concessions of this magnitude, while other facilities continue to increase investments in the wages and benefits of the nurses, Rice Memorial could become a revolving workforce door,’’ she said.

“This situation only serves to compromise the continuity of care. It will likely prove to be an economic mistake due to higher retention and recruitment fees. Each time a nurse is replaced, the organization pays the equivalent of at least a year’s salary in expenses. That just doesn’t make common sense,’’ Jorgenson said.

She said Rice will be investing $45 million over the coming five years to maintain infrastructure, rebuild units and buy new equipment. She said the investment will keep the hospital viable and offer the best possible patient care.

“The same type of long-term investment is also needed to retain and recruit hospital staff,’’ she said. “Wages and salaries for registered nurses at Rice Memorial have fallen far behind comparable hospitals in this region and the state.’’

Mages asked why her family’s health coverage is not as important as coverage for top administrators.

“If top administrators decide the $750 deductible insurance is what they deserve, why shouldn’t nurses who take care of the sick and dying, the newborns and children, the mentally ill and every other type of patient that walks through our doors have the choice for that plan as well?’’ she asked.

The council received their comments as information.

Afterward, Councilman Steve Ahmann asked City Administrator Charlene Stevens to invite Rice and Municipal Utilities officials to a meeting of the Labor Relations Committee, which he chairs, for an update on strategies for negotiations with unions representing employees.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150