W-B General Cited Over Staffing Issues

November 15, 2018

The Pennsylvania Department of Health cited Wilkes-Barre General Hospital for systemic violations related to inadequate staffing concerns raised by the union which represents registered nurses.

The Wyoming Valley Nurses Association, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, submitted a large packet of patient care and staffing concerns to the Department of Health.

In response, the department initiated an unannounced on-site investigation from Sept 10-14.

According to its report, the Department of Health found a “systemic nature of non-compliance with regards to nursing services” citing that management “failed to schedule a sufficient number of RNs and/or ancillary staff on the nursing units for 81 of 148 shifts reviewed.” The report found 91 open registered nurse positions and reliance on an excessive use of overtime.

Investigators cited Wilkes-Barre General Hospital for violations of 19 state and federal health codes related to patient rights, staffing and emergency services. The findings were based on interviews with at least 61 hospital employees and multiple patients, as well as review of staffing grids, schedules, and selected medical records.

Earlier this year, registered nurses participated in a strike, demanding improvements in staffing. The nurses initially planned to strike for one day. The hospital, however, hired temporary replacement nurses and locked out the unionized nurses for five days and they continued to picket.

The nurses have been in contract negotiations with the hospital for the last year.

“We have been raising nurses’ concerns to management on a day-to-day basis and throughout our contract bargaining,” said Elaine Weale, registered nurse and union president of the Wyoming Valley Nurses Association.

Weale said Tennessee-based hospital owner Community Heath Systems “has not established standards that will recruit and retain enough registered nurses.” In Northeastern Pennsylvania, the health system includes six hospitals operating as Commonwealth Health.

“The report underlines what we’ve always said, they are putting profits before patients,” Weale said.

Renita Fennick, spokeswoman for Commonwealth Health, said in an emailed statement that following the September survey by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, “We implemented a plan of correction to address the areas the DOH cited.”

“The plan of correction was accepted by DOH after concluding a follow-up survey which found our hospital to be compliant in meeting the required standards of care,” Fennick said in the statement. “Providing safe, quality care is our priority. Leadership of the hospital — administration, medical staff and board of trustees — is engaged to monitor progress and identify opportunities for continued improvement.”

The nurses, however, said more improvement is needed. They charged that inadequate staffing is spreading them thin and causing a negative impact on patient care.

They cited a report released last week from the Leapfrog Group, an independent hospital watchdog, that gave a “C” grade to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in its fall 2018 hospital safety report. The report found performance to be below average on various metrics including the rate of some infections, patient falls and bed sores.

Fennick said hospital officials are “committed to the collective bargaining process” with registered nurses.

“Negotiations with PASNAP are ongoing under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service toward a successor collective bargaining agreement,” she said. “The hospital remains focused on productive negotiations so a mutually acceptable agreement can be reached.”

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