Minnesota Nurses Strike At 5 Minneapolis Hospitals Over Health Benefits And Lack Of Resources [Video]

Minnesota nurses strike at five Minneapolis-area hospitals after health benefits negotiations reached an impasse. Approximately 4,800 nurses are participating in the strike.

All of the hospitals are operated by Allina, a not-for-profit hospital network. Allina and the Minnesota Nurses Association union started contract negotiations over four months ago. The most recent contract ended on May 31, and no new talks have been scheduled.

The main issue in dispute is Allina’s proposal to switch union nurses to the same health insurance plan as 30,000 other Allina employees. The insurance has lower monthly premiums but high deductibles, resulting in higher costs for nurses but a savings of $10 million for the company.

Mary Turner, union president, said as of Sunday, members will participate in strike demonstrations for 12 hours a day outside the five hospitals which include: Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis; Mercy in Coon Rapids; United in St. Paul; Unity in Fridley; and the Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis. Per the SC Times, the union said 1,500 people were protesting.

Additional concerns for nurses are unsafe working conditions. Angela Becchetti, a nurse within the Allina system, said not enough resources ends up harming patients, per PBS News.

“If you have a loved one coming to the hospital, they might not get the best care, because if your nurses are dealing with another patient, or aren’t able to attend to your loved one because we don’t have enough resources on the floor, that’s concerning.”

Valerie Johnson, a children’s psychiatric nurse, with one of the hospitals also commented on the work environment, added PBS News.

“It is heartbreaking, it is absolutely heartbreaking to leave those kids, those kids that I know… I know what works and what doesn’t work.”

Allina has hired 1,400 temporary nurses from various states to work during the strike. CEO Dr. Penny Wheeler said she is “willing to engage in meaningful dialogue that address [sic] the health plan transition and issues that are important to the nurses.”

Jo Copas, one of the nurses at the United Hospital, said she was willing to make the sacrifice of striking for one week to protect her other benefits, per a Star Tribune report.

“It’s really not about just the insurance. It’s about Allina trying to chip away at our benefits. If they can get this done, then they’ll go toward other things.”

Picketing nurses experienced mixed emotions over their replacements, who were brought in by HealthSource Global and other agencies. Temporary nurses received $400 signing bonuses, travel and hotel costs.

Allina nurses realize that while they are not at work, patients still need care. On the other hand, replacement nurses help Allina in its efforts to take way benefits from permanent nursing staff. Paul Honmyhr, who works the night shift at Abbott’s cardiac recovery unit, explained the conflict.

“It’s hard… I don’t work in a job where, if I’m not at work, the work doesn’t get done. People still need care. People are still sick. I can’t keep that from happening and I want those people to be cared for.”

According to the plan that Allina has in place, replacement nurses leave Abbott at 7 p.m., and buses take them to nearby hotels. When asked to make a comment, they replied that they “were told not to,” added the Star Tribune.

Another issue that the Minnesota nurses are at odds with is Allina’s reports, which state the union nurses use ER care at a 28 percent higher rate than other Allina employees. Allina states this is because the union plan offers no incentive to use less expensive urgent care. However, one nurse said going to the emergency room can be necessary. She once had to go because a patient kicked her in the head.

[Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty]