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Health Care Workers Call on ARH Board Members to Meet, Develop Real Strategy to Deal With Hospitals' Bottom Line

Union Members Say Patient Care at Risk With Threats of Closures, Layoffs

LOUISVILLE, Ky., Feb. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Leaders from three major unions representing more than 3,000 health care workers at nine Appalachian Regional Health Care (ARH) facilities in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia today called on the ARH board of directors to meet with them to discuss recent cost-cutting proposals that will adversely impact patient care.


In a letter to members of the ARH board, representatives of the United Steelworkers (USW), Southern United Nurses (SUN) and the West Virginia Nurses Association (WVNA) urged board members to work with ARH workers to develop strategies to secure the long-term financial viability of ARH, if that is at risk.

Recently, ARH management has sought to improve the hospital's bottom line by insisting that its union workers, who all have contracts set to expire in 2010 and who all endured bitter strikes against ARH in 2007, open their contracts and agree to bargaining concessions on issues related to employee benefits and patient care.

"As nurses, we are committed to providing the best care possible to the patients in our communities," said WVNA E & GW Chair Rue Hairston, RN. "That is why we work through our union to advocate so strongly for our patients, and why we will work with ARH management to make sure these hospitals are there for our patients. But ARH's demands of unilateral concessions by the union do nothing to accomplish those goals."

On Jan. 9, ARH management invited the three unions to a special meeting to discuss ARH's economic situation. As a not-for-profit health care facility, ARH shared with the unions the stress placed on it by the lack of adequate Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement it received and the impact that had on the hospital's bottom line.

"If ARH has financial concerns, there are strategies we can explore with our state and federal governments to recoup Medicare and Medicaid losses to the hospitals," said USW spokesperson Emmanuel (Spurge) Mason. "The first course of action should not be penalizing dedicated employees and jeopardizing patient care."

Union members have raised doubts about the hospital's alleged financial problems. At the January meeting, Chief Executive Officer Jerry Haynes announced the hospital was viable, stable and profitable before asking the unions to consider reopening their contracts. ARH has not declared economic distress, and management employees received pay raises immediately prior to the appeal for concessions from union workers.

However, Haynes announced the hospital was reviewing medical services to determine which services were the least profitable in the event the hospital had to make some tough decisions. This suggests that ARH is considering possible layoffs or furloughs across its nine facilities in Kentucky and West Virginia.

"While ARH workers are doing our best to keep these hospitals open and serve our communities, management appears to be focused on figuring out new ways to accomplish what they failed to do during our strikes - eliminate our unions," said SUN President Sarah Hunley, RN. "This is the latest in a string of actions by ARH aimed at rooting out the unions - from unilateral changes in policies to discontinuing long-standing personnel practices to referring nearly all grievances to costly arbitration for resolution."

In their letter to ARH board members, union leaders reaffirmed their commitment to patient care in their communities, and called on hospital management to refocus its efforts to working with ARH employees to find creative solutions for this goal.

    Terry Sims at 304-583-9656
    or 502-330-4414 (c)

SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)
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