Union nurses seeking help from Duke University students, alumni

Registered nurses of UPHS-Marquette began a 48-hour strike this morning to rally for safer staffing levels. "UP nurses are prepared to stand in solidarity in our fight for safer staffing," said Scott Balko, RN and president of the UPHS Marquette RN Staff Council. RN's and other supporters in the community form a picket line around the UPHS-Marquette building.

MARQUETTE — Members of the nurses union at UP Health System-Marquette ran a full-page color ad in the Duke Chronicle, a paper for students and alumni of Duke University, on Monday, addressing short-staffing concerns, which nurses say stemmed their two-day strike in October.

In a press release issued Tuesday, the Michigan Nurses Association announced that short staffing, forced overtime and unsafe patient care conditions at UPHS-Marquette still persist.

“Duke University Health System presents itself as a world-class institution, but conditions in Marquette tell a different story. Maybe they put patients first down in North Carolina, but it seems like they are just cashing in on their partnership with LifePoint in the UP,” Scott Balko, registered nurse and president of the UPHS-Marquette RN Staff Council/MNA, said in a press release. “Hopefully this gets Duke’s attention, and they live up to their responsibility to our patients.”

Duke LifePoint, which is a for-profit partnership between Duke University Health System and LifePoint Health, purchased non-profit Marquette General Hospital in 2012.

According to the MNA’s press release, nurses say that the result is a “profits over patients” mentality, tarnishing Duke’s good name.

Hospital officials confirmed they have several bargaining dates with union members set throughout the month.

“UPHS-Marquette will continue to bargain in good faith and strive to find the common ground necessary to negotiate a labor agreement that meets the needs of all parties and constituents. We have no comment on this tactic employed by the union,” Victor Harrington, the regional director of marketing and business development at UPHS-Marquette, said in an email.

Duke LifePoint and Marquette nurses have been in contract negotiations since April. However, their contract lapsed in July after an agreement couldn’t be reached, and nurses have since been working without contracts.

In August, the MNA delivered a report of 780 documented patient care consequences from inadequate or unsafe RN assignments to Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services. The report includes a list of 111 cases of one or more IVs running dry, medicines being given late, 12 reports of one or more patient falls and 259 reports of one or more nurses going without breaks, lunches or being mandated to work 16-hour shifts. All incident occurred this year, nurses said.

On Oct. 5-6 about 400 UPHS-Marquette nurses went on strike for safe staffing levels.

After Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs reviewed the MNA’s report regarding patient concerns, UPHS received an unexpected visit from US Department of Health and Human Services. Officials said the hospital was in compliance with Medicare requirements.

Even though the DHHS interviewed numerous nurses, according to the MNA, nurses who filed reports regarding unsafe staffing levels were not contacted by state investigators.

In September, Balko and other MNA members sent a letter to Duke University’s Board of Trustees, asking that they investigate the matter.

“We call on the Duke Board of Trustees to intervene on behalf of patients and the community by publicly urging Duke LifePoint to negotiate a fair contract including safe staffing levels with nurses at UPHS-Marquette,” the letter stated.

Since the MNA didn’t hear back from the board of trustees, according to a press release, they placed the ad in the Duke Chronicle.

Jaymie Depew can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is jdepew@miningjournal.net.