Nearly 700 nurses, members of the United American Nurses have been on strike at nine Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) hospitals in Kentucky and West Virginia since Oct. 1. They are striking because management policies are endangering patient care. Primary concerns are understaffing and mandatory overtime.
We’re being asked to do impossible tasks, to be responsible for too many patients. Some days we have as many as 12 patients to care for. That’s too much for one person to do without making a mistake. I tell my husband who is a retired teacher that if he makes a mistake, he can just erase the board. If a nurse makes a mistake, it could erase someone off the earth.
ARH has hired replacement nurses and is housing them in vacant wings of the hospitals. The striking nurses now state that the company is increasing intimidation efforts by hiring security guards who continually harass them and use video cameras to spy on them. Worse, over the weekend of November 10, a union representative’s car was burned just as he got off the picket line.
Local President of the West Virginia Nurses Assn. Union at Beckley ARH in West Virginia, Ocie Helton, RN states:
We are stunned. Violent threatening actions like this are beyond the pale. Registered nurses who are out on this picket to stand up for patient care are being repaid with threats to our lives. What if the next time someone is in the car that is set on fire? Working women and men are literally under attack in Beckley and risking our lives to speak out for our patients.
The home communities of the strikers are giving them strong support and state legislators joined nurses for a rally in West Virginia. In Hazard Ky., the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Daniel Mongiardo, a surgeon, refused to cross the nurses’ picket line. Sarah Hunley, RN for 37 years in Harlan, Ky states:
This is home to us and we like it. We like our patients – they’re our friends and neighbors and we want to give them the best care. We’re fighting a big corporate giant, but we’re right in what we’re doing.
Picketing and monetary support for the strikers has come from across the nation and includes the California Nurses Assn, the Ohio Nurses Assn, NY State Nurses Assn, and Washington State Nurses Assn. Also supporting are AFL-CIO, AFSCME, UMWA and USW.