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Santa Rosa Memorial, Petaluma Valley hospitals to continue serving the community during unions’ three-day strike


(Santa Rosa, CA, November 1, 2012) Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley hospitals are fully prepared to continue meeting the needs of patients and their families in the event of a three-day strike planned by the Staff Nurses' Association (SNA) and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39. The SNA union, which represents approximately 660 registered nurses employed at Santa Rosa Memorial, has notified the hospital of its intent to strike starting at 5 a.m. Saturday, November 3, 2012, and ending at 5 a.m. Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

The Local 39 Operating Engineers, which represent a total of 18 employees at Santa Rosa Memorial and at Petaluma Valley hospitals, has notified the hospitals of their intent to strike at both facilities during the same three-day period.

The decision by both unions to provide advance notice of a strike is related to ongoing collective bargaining negotiations.

"As we demonstrated throughout strikes at both of our hospitals earlier this year, we are committed to continuing to provide high-quality, safe, compassionate care and service without interruption," said Debra Miller, Vice President of Human Resources for St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County, which operates the two hospitals. "The unions' decision will in no way distract from our focus on serving patients, their loved ones, and health care partners throughout the region who rely on us."

Santa Rosa Memorial has contracted with an agency to provide highly qualified and experienced replacement nurses to ensure uninterrupted patient care, which is standard industry practice during a nursing strike. Because of overlapping strikes at Sutter hospitals in the Bay Area and the resulting demand for nurses, the agency through which these replacement nurses are being hired required a five-day minimum contractual commitment to secure their services. This means the replacement nurses would be working at the hospital for five days, starting the day of the strike. Most nurses who choose to strike would return to work Thursday, November 8, or on their next regularly scheduled shift thereafter.

As with the nurses, the hospitals have contracted with an agency to ensure coverage both in Santa Rosa and Petaluma by qualified engineers throughout a strike.

St. Joseph Health will temporarily close one of its Urgent Care centers – in Windsor – and will treat all local patients Saturday, Sunday and Monday out of its Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park Urgent Cares. The Santa Rosa Urgent Care will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily; Rohnert Park will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. All three Urgent Cares will be open, as usual, starting Tuesday morning, November 6, and striking nurses may be called back to staff those centers as needed.

Like providers across the country, St. Joseph Health continues to seek ways to control and reduce the costs of patient care as health reform dramatically alters the healthcare landscape. Along with seeking to meet the needs of consumers and employers for more affordable care, St. Joseph Health is also preparing for an ongoing decline in reimbursements, heightened competition among health insurers, and increasing regulatory demands. Given these challenges, St. Joseph Health hospitals must balance a longstanding commitment to fair, just wages and benefits for all employees with cost-saving measures that promote the hospitals' fiscal stability.

Unresolved issues with both the SNA nurses' union and the engineers' union relate primarily to wages and benefits.

"We highly value our nurses and engineers, and respect their right to strike. At the same time, we believe striking at a health care facility should be undertaken only after all other avenues of reaching compromise have been exhausted," Miller said. "We are committed to providing our valued RNs and engineers just wages and benefits. Yet we, like other U.S. employers, also must find ways to de-escalate significant increases in payroll and benefits expenses. With health reform's impact on our reimbursement and local employers looking increasingly to lower their health insurance costs, we must find ways to save while continuing to fairly compensate our highly skilled RNs and engineers. We look forward to getting back to the bargaining table with both unions in hopes of reaching mutually agreeable compromises that everyone can support."

Representatives of the National Union of Healthcare Workers and the California Nurses Association (CNA) are also expected to engage in informational picketing outside Santa Rosa Memorial during the strike. The CNA, which represents RNs at Petaluma Valley, also has notified St. Joseph Health of the union's intent to picket outside Petaluma Valley from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. this coming Saturday, November 3.

NOTE: Passersby who wish to express their support for those who are striking or picketing are asked, please, to refrain from loud noises including honking horns as they pass the hospitals, out of consideration for critically ill patients who need a restful environment to heal, as well as for the hospitals' residential neighbors. Thank you.

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