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West Penn Nurses Say They’re Still Dealing With The Fallout Of The Pandemic, Ask For Fair Contract

Nurses from West Penn Hospital gathered in Friendship Park on Tuesday to ask for a new union contract that "respects and invests in nurses."
Julia Zenkevich
90.5 WESA
Nurses from West Penn Hospital gathered in Friendship Park on Tuesday to ask for a new union contract that "respects and invests in nurses."

Nurses from West Penn Hospital held a vigil on Tuesday evening to ask hospital leadership to agree to a new union contract. Advocates say the new contract would help address the nurse staffing crisis and avoid a strike after a difficult year.

“We are continually asked to do more with less. We’re losing too many good nurses,” said Mary Lynn Donaldson, a nurse at West Penn.

More than 650 nurses voted to unionize with SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania last August. They have been negotiating a new contract with hospital management since January and hope they can come to an agreement that “respects and invests in nurses.”

West Penn nurses said the pandemic hit during a nationwide nurse shortage that has worsened in recent months.

“A lot of people are leaving because it’s just a lot of burnout, they’re really stressed,” said Kayla Rath, a nurse at West Penn. “And some people aren’t even getting jobs at the bedside somewhere else, they’re just completely done. So, we really need the hospital to step up and really invest in the nurses that they have.”

Rath said the hospital will have to recruit new nurses and offer support to current staff to address the crisis.

“This has been a really hard year and a half, I mean, for everybody, not just for us. And we just want what’s best for our patients. And obviously a way we believe we can do that is by recruiting and retaining nurses,” she said. “That’s really the end goal here: to get nurses to come and get nurses to stay.”

The nurses are asking for policies like increased staff-to-patient ratios and higher pay. But Theresa Daniel, a nurse at West Penn, said she's been disappointed with the hospital's response thus far.

“Nurses are not being heard. Nurses do not have a say in some of the most important patient-care issues that affect patients and nurses directly,” Daniel said.

The nurses voted last week to authorize a strike but urged hospital leadership to come to a fair contract before they take that step. They have not set a date for the strike, and negotiations between the union and management are ongoing.

In a statement, Allegheny Health Network, which operates West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield, said they “continue to bargain in good faith” with the nurses.

“At Allegheny Health Network, we respect the right of our employees to organize and participate in related activities that do not interfere with the operations of our hospitals,” said Dan Laurent, a spokesperson for the company. “We are committed to offering employees at every level – including both represented and non-represented members of the workforce – wages and benefits that are fair and competitive in the market, and working conditions that are conducive to the delivery of high quality health care services.”

Rath said the nurses are doing what they can to settle and reach an agreement on the contract.

“Ultimately we don’t want to strike,” she said. “But we’re going to do what’s best for the nurses and for the patients. That’s really what it comes down to.”

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at