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Nurses Stage Informational Rally at Saint Barnabas

CWA Local 1091 hoping to secure improved nurse-patient ratio in next contract; current pact expires Nov. 1 at midnight.

More than 100 nurses and union representatives staged an informational rally Tuesday morning outside the East Wing of Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, in hopes of improving nurse-patient ratios in their next contract.

Livingston-based New Jersey Nurses Union CWA Local 1091 and Saint Barnabas have been negotiating a new deal since Sept. 21 according to Local 1091 President Nancy Refinski without reaching an accord, so Tuesday's measure was meant to inform the public that the nurses are being stretched too thin with their current responsibilities.

The nurses' current contract with Saint Barnabas is set to expire at midnight Nov. 1. A couple of nurses approached on site after the rally declined comment.

“The rally was strictly informational,” Refinski said. “They are still negotiating with us, which is fine. But we wanted to bring attention to the community that the nurses at Saint Barnabas are striving for better nurse-patient ratio.”

In a statement, Saint Barnabas responded by saying, “The Medical Center was surprised that the union chose to hold an informational rally at this early date given that we have only recently begun negotiations and have numerous scheduled upcoming negotiating sessions.”

The next negotiation sessions between both sides is slated for Thursday, Refinski said the nurses are “receptive” to negotiating a new deal that works for both sides. She is hopeful they can agree upon a deal similar to the one struck between Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and HPAE Local 5004 in 2009 that includes language regarding staffing levels in all hospital units.

Although 950 unionized nurses are currently employed by Saint Barnabas, Refinski contends that other cuts by the Medical Center have tasked the nursing staff, noting that the hospital laid off night-time phlebotomists which forced the nurses to handle those duties.

As an example, Refinski said that the current nurse-patient ratio on an average medical floor is 1 to 8 or 9 per patient at night, which she would like to see diminished to 1 to 6 or 7. However, although she did not have specific numbers to back her case, the Local 1091 president said nursing staffing levels have remained the same while the number of emergency-room and critical patients.

While Refinski maintained that, “You get the best nursing care in New Jersey at Saint Barnabas” she wants the hospital to stop doing “more with less.”

“It lends itself to a situation where the nurse feels she can't always gives as much care as she wants,” Refinski said. “We're always thinking about the patient first. That's what we're try to negotiate. We're trying to negotiate staffing levels so that we're never short staffed.”

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