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After months of negotiations, nurses at Armstrong County's only hospital are going on strike

A child holds up a sign about her mother, who is a nurse at Armstrong County Medical Hospital. The nurses plan to strike on Sunday, March 13, 2022.
Courtesy Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals
A child holds up a sign about her mother, who is a nurse at Armstrong County Medical Hospital. The nurses plan to strike for better working conditions on Sunday, March 13, 2022.

Nurses at Armstrong County’s only hospital plan to go on strike from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., starting Sunday, and will continue to do so daily from Monday through Thursday.

According to the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals, registered nurses and certified registered nurse anesthetists at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital in Kittanning have been working without a contract since the summer.

After hitting an impasse with hospital administration, RN Jerry Dunn says the union of some 220 nurses voted to strike. “We’ve been hemorrhaging nurses for the last two years…because of the conditions we’re working in,” said Dunn.

There are a few issues, according to Dunn, that ACMH management won’t budge on. One is disagreements around compensation, though Dunn wouldn’t give specific numbers. For its part, the hospital said in an email statement that over four months ago it “presented the most lucrative and aggressive wage proposal in its history. "

Another is the hospital wants to take away call-off protections, which allow staff to stay home if they’re ill or have to care for a family member. And finally, Dunn says nurses want the hospital to stop the practice of assigning them to various units without their consent. Certain types of nursing are highly specialized, and staff reportedly are uncomfortable switching between disciplines like ambulatory surgery and intensive care.

To be out of a specialized department, like the ICU, for any period of time, and then be pulled back…and be expected to operate like you used to,” said Dunn, “it’s just not safe for the patient.”

ACHM, which declined an interview with WESA News, said that patient care is not being compromised in any way. And regarding the strike, that it is “taking necessary measures to remain open and available to the community,” though some services might be suspended or curtailed.

Facilities in Butler and Natrona Heights are the nearest hospitals to ACMH; both are more than 20 minutes away.

Updated: March 13, 2022 at 10:09 PM EDT
A statement ACHM made Sunday was added.
Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.