Nurses' strikes costly for hospitals

Hospitals across the country have been rocked by nursing strikes over the last year. The coming months show no letup, which means that hospitals will continue to face major disruptions, both financial and otherwise.

In the last year, nurses went on strike at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in Pennsylvania, Kaiser Permanente’s Los Angeles Medical Center, Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., and at 14 hospitals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, among others.

[See also: Tufts Medical Center nurses vote to strike over safety; Nurses strike at Kaiser's Sunset Boulevard medical center.]

Two strikes are scheduled in Massachusetts this week and a five-day strike is scheduled later this month at Children’s Hospital Oakland, Calif. – the second nurses’ strike there since October. Two other strikes scheduled for this week – one at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor (which would have been the second strike there in less than six months) and another at Range Regional Health Services in Minnesota, have been called off due to tentative agreements reached last week.

The increase in nurses’ strikes is being blamed on out-of-control corporations, said Chuck Idelson, communications director of National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the country and the organization behind most of the strikes.

“Hospital corporations are putting their bottom line ahead of patient safety and nursing standards,” he said, which puts nurses in the position of defending their jobs and benefits as well as patient care.

Hospital administrations facing nursing strikes point the finger at nurses’ unions, saying they are pushing an aggressive national agenda instead of trying to adapt to local realities.

Whatever the reasons behind nursing strikes, the outcome for hospitals across the country is the same: These strikes are costly.

The Washington Post reported in March that the nurses’ strike at Washington Hospital Center cost the hospital $6 million in temporary nurses, additional security and other costs.

EMMC wired $2.3 million to an agency that provides temporary nurses to cover this week’s aborted nursing strike. The hospital will get most of that money back, said Greg Howat, vice president for human resources and education and chief negotiator, but he expects it’ll still cost the hospital $600,000. That figure doesn’t include incidental costs for cancelled hotel and airfare reservations that haven’t yet been calculated. It also doesn’t account for the money the hospital has spent in extra hours worked by employees during negotiations.

Also uncalculated, and maybe incalculable, are costs to the hospital’s reputation, said Jill McDonald, EMMC’s vice president of communication and market development.