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UPMC Altoona Nurses Go On Strike

James Myers
SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania

Registered nurses at UPMC Altoona stepped off the job for a one-day strike on Tuesday.

Tammy Morgan, a nurse in the Behavioral Health Inpatient Unit, said many of the hospital’s 750 nurses are on the picket line today.

“We don’t know exactly how many, but there’s hundreds of people out there,” Morgan said. “We have lots of community people going by honking. We have other people in the community standing with us. Everybody’s riled up, chanting, marching up and down the sidewalks.”

The strike comes after negotiations between the Service Employees International Union, which represents the nurses at the hospital, and UPMC Altoona broke down.

Morgan, who has worked at the Altoona hospital for 6 ½ years, is on the negotiation team.

“The main priority is staffing,” she said. “We’re not asking for a lot of staff, we’re just asking for adequate staff, so the nurses aren’t overwhelmed with patients. We want to be able to provide the best care for them, not running around and giving a patient 15-20 minutes out of your shift.”

Morgan said her unit usually has enough staff to handle all of their patients, but other units at the 380-bed hospital, such as the Surgical Medical Unit and the Intensive Care Unit, are really feeling the staffing crunch.

Dave Cuzzolina, director of Marketing and Communications at UPMC Altoona, said the nurses are after more than just staffing increases.

“At one point I heard them say it was about staffing and pensions,” said Cuzzolina. “But when we went back to the table to talk about those things, they also brought up these economic issues.”

Cuzzolina said the nurses are unsatisfied with current wage scales and opportunities for advancement.

Morgan said that’s not true.

“The money isn’t and never has been important to us,” she said. “The raises aren’t so much a big deal, it’s the cuts. We’re just trying to maintain what we have. That’s all we want, is maintaining what we have and providing quality care for patients.”

Patients at the hospital have continued to receive care, as UPMC hired 270 replacement nurses. Even though the strike is only 24 hours long — from 7 a.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Wednesday — the hospital is required to hire the replacement nurses for at least three days of work.

“The nurses were very professional in handing off their patients to the replacement nurses that we have in the hospital now," Cuzzolina said. "The hospital is basically experiencing business as usual.”

Morgan said she and the rest of the nurses at UPMC Altoona will show up ready to work on Wednesday at 7 a.m., regardless of whether the hospital will have them back.

The hospital, which was previously known as Altoona Hospital, joined the UPMC network in July 2013. Negotiations between the nurses and the hospital are expected to resume next week.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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