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Armstrong County nurses authorize strike

CRANBERRY TWP — Nurses at Armstrong Center for Medicine & Health voted — almost unanimously — Wednesday to authorize a strike.

Nearly 95% of union nurses at the Kittanning hospital voted to authorize the strike, which gives the bargaining committee power to submit to the hospital a 10-day strike notice should the committee deem it necessary.

ACMH Nurses United, the nurses’ union, has been negotiating with the hospital since the summer on a new collective bargaining agreement, according to a statement issued Thursday. There are 213 registered nurses in the union, who have been working without a new contract since the July expiry of their previous three-year agreement.

The union says “recruitment and retention of staff” have been at the forefront of negotiations, which it claims have stalled.

“We want to provide excellent care, and we can’t do that when we aren’t staffed appropriately and nurses are assigned too many patients at once,” said ACMH Nurses United president Cassie Wood. “This isn’t a problem without a solution – the hospital can commit the necessary resources to the front lines, something a lot of hospitals are already doing, and it’s why we find management’s unwillingness to commit to these sorts of quality-of-care improvements incredibly frustrating.”

A spokesman for the hospital accused the union’s leadership of failing “to take a fair contract offer seriously,” and said the hospital’s contract offer would raise wages more than 15% over three years.

“At the same time, while consistently working to staff in accordance with agreed-upon guidelines, ACMH has attempted to recruit and employ (registered nurses) in a market where a 30% shortage is projected,” a hospital statement reads. “A threatened work stoppage does not help either side in a negotiation, nor the residents of the community that we serve and who are in need.“

Wood’s statement — that too many patients are assigned to a nurse — and the union’s move both come as the state nursing association pushes for legislators to pass state House Bill 106 and state Senate Bill 240, collectively known as the Patient Safety Act. Both bills would limit the number of patients who could be assigned to individual nurses.

Both bills have been stalled in committee, with the House bill in the Health Committee since February 2021, and the Senate proposal in the Health and Human Services Committee since August.