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Rhode Island nurse strike causing influx of patients to other area hospitals

Hospital staff report safe conditions, but it remains unclear when the strike will end and what happens next.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Rhode Island nurses, like these California nurses in 2014, went on strike Monday.. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesRhode Island nurses, like these California nurses in 2014, went on strike Monday.. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A strike among union nurses at Rhode Island Hospital, which began on Monday, was expected to result in a surge of patients to other area hospitals. A couple of days into the strike, that already appears to be the case.

Rhode Island's Department of Health expedited licenses to more than 1,000 replacement healthcare workers in preparation, as the conflict between the union nurses and their parent company, Lifespan, is locked in a stalemate. Rhode Island and Hasbro Children's Hospital both have replacement staff tending to patients.

According to the Providence Journal, the staff stationed at both hospitals reported safe conditions, and the transition from regular employees to replacements was handled in an orderly fashion. Some, however, have noticed increased demand at other hospitals, suggesting that regular patients at Rhode Island Hospital are seeking care elsewhere as the strike continues.

Some 2.400 workers in total are going on strike, and the number of replacement workers falls short of that amount, local station Turn to 10 reported. Some union members are part time, and others work a combination of 8- and 12-hour shifts, while the replacements will work 12-hour shifts for the duration of the four-day work stoppage.

On July 12, members of United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5098 voted to reject a contract proposal and stage the three-day strike. Meanwhile, Care New England, which operates Women and Infants' Hospital, Butler Hospital and Kent Hospital, said all three facilities have been busier than usual.

Kent saw abou a 12 percent increase in inpatient volume, and a 13 percent increase in emergency department visits. Women and Infants' triage unit saw a 14 percent uptick.

WPRI reported that nearby Miriam hospital saw a 20 percent increase in inpatient volume on Tuesday and began diverting ambulances to other facilities. 

It's unclear what will happen when the union nurses return to work. The crux of the dispute is that Lifespan paid $10 million to a contract agency and then reduced its offer to the union. The offer included a range of 6 percent to 19.75 percent raises over a three-year contract, but the union called for more equitable raises and competitive salaries to combat turnover. There are no negotiations currently planned between the two parties.

Twitter: @JELagasse
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