Oak Hill Hospital

A union official calls the three-year pact a “strong agreement,” but local nurses at Oak Hill Hospital remain concerned about staffing issues.

Registered nurses at 10 Florida hospitals, including Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville, have ratified a three-year agreement with HCA that provides substantial gains, their union said in a press release.

“This is a strong agreement that will improve protections and conditions for our patients, and our communities, as well as enhance standards for the nurses,” said Osceola RN Marissa Lee, who is also a board member of National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United, which represents the Florida RNs.

“For the most part, we’re happy with it,” said Judy Preuss of Brooksville, a nurse in the intensive care unit at Oak Hill Hospital.

The contract makes a lot of progress on issues such as personal protective equipment and how nurses can get such equipment to deal with patients who are suspected of having infectious diseases like COVID-19.

There wasn’t as much progress on staffing issues as nurses would have liked, Preuss said, and nurses couldn’t “get any real strong staffing language in there that’s safe for the patients.” Still, there were no takeaways in terms of pay and benefits, and nurses can get free COVID testing if they believe they have been exposed to the virus.

A few weeks ago, nurses had been picketing on the sidewalk outside Oak Hill Hospital to raise awareness, especially of the staffing issue, which Preuss said has been a problem since she started there 16 years ago and she said was one of the reasons nurses voted in the union 10 years ago.

The union had announced a tentative agreement with HCA on a new collective bargaining contract on July 6.

In a statement, HCA spokeswoman Deb McKell wrote, “HCA West Florida is pleased to report that an agreement with the union has been ratified, for our hospitals covered by the contract. Now that the negotiation process is complete, we are excited to move forward and want to thank all of our caregivers who are dedicated to providing compassionate care to the communities we serve along Florida’s west coast.”

In addition to Oak Hill Hospital, the agreement covers NNOC/NNU-represented nurses who work at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford, Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte, Largo Medical Center, Medical Center of Trinity, Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg,  Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee and St. Petersburg General Hospital.

The NNOC/NNU represents 12,000 RNs at 20 HCA hospitals from Florida to California, the union said in a press release. Overall, NNU, the largest union of registered nurses in the U.S., represents 175,000 RNs.

The proposed settlement was presented to the RNs at all the facilities in membership meetings for ratification beginning July 7.

Highlights of the agreement include improvements in health and safety protections for patients and nurses; the promotion of diversity and equity at the hospitals; protection of existing health coverage; and enhanced economic security.

Nurses had struggled during the pandemic with a lack of personal protective equipment to avoid spreading COVID-19 to patients, coworkers and family members.

“These are critical, binding steps that address some of the most serious problems we have confronted throughout the pandemic,” said Christina Hison, an RN at Central Florida Regional Hospital. “With the continued spread of the virus, especially the now-prevalent Delta variant, which is far more transmissible, it is essential that we have proper safety measures in place for Covid-19 that serve as a model for the future infectious diseases sure to come.”

All Florida RNs will earn pay increases of at least 2 percent in the first year and up to 19 percent over the three-year pact, depending on length-of-service pay scales and specialty clinical expertise, as well as additional compensation for nurses when needed for critical staffing shortages and when called in for needed extra shifts, the union said in the press release.

In addition, issues of staffing will be dealt with, as each facility will hold staffing committee meetings to address concerns about staffing standards and the assignment of nurses outside their area of expertise and experience, the union said.

Preuss said that with HCA’s record profits last year, it can afford to hire more nurses.

In the ICU on a nightly basis, each nurse has an average of three patients, and generally every nurse has more patients than they can safely handle.

It’s very disheartening, she said, to be in a hurry and unable to communicate with patients and give them emotional support.

“You’re there to ease that patient’s fear,” Preuss said.