Discussing the politics between unions, hospitals and striking nurses is always a touchy subject. Lately, however, this subject continues to come up as nurse unions threaten strikes all around the country.
In June, the largest nursing strike in the nation was planned with over 12,000 Minnesota nurses striking and thousands more nurses from the University of California hospital system, prepared to walk out.
Strikes are never optimal situations for any of the parties involved. Nurses participating in the strikes stated that nurse-to-patient ratios and large hospital profits with no employee pay increases were core to the issue. The unions went as far as to state that the nursing strike was predicated on "unfair labor practices." Such a label means nurses can collect unemployment compensation for their time away from
work and the hospitals cannot permanently replace them.
The hospitals feel such a stance from the unions is too strong and detrimental to their ability to deliver quality patient care. Many nurses actually worry about the patient care issue as well. For most, it is the primary reason why they don't strike more often. A major difference between nurses going on strike and workers in other industries is that the lives and care of patients is involved. Even a temporary lapse of care can put lives in danger. When nurses are ready to strike because of an imbalance in staff-to-patient ratios, justifying a walkout that exacerbates this situation is difficult.
Therefore, being prepared for a strike is the best situation for both hospitals and their healthcare staff. The best way for hospitals to be prepared for a strike is to have strong contracts with reputable staffing agencies that can have staff ready to go in a strike situation. Having such contracts can ensure the best bill rates for strike situations and more importantly, that your facility will have trained, oriented staff ready to go.
Establishing such relationships doesn't just benefit the hospitals by helping them keep their doors open, it also provides nurses and the public with the comfort they need in knowing that patients are still being taken care of. For example, A Superior Court Judge in California was successful at preventing the recent nursing strike by issuing a restraining order just prior to the strike. The grounds of the order suggested that the strike would cause a danger to the public. However, if hospitals are prepared at all times with trained agency staff there is no reason a lapse in care should occur.
It's true that employing temporary staff in a strike situation is more costly in terms of pay rates and orientation costs. Further, many staffing agencies charge higher rates for the last minute, critical needs. However, the more prepared a hospital is for such a situation, the more affordable temporary staff become and the better trained they are to start providing good patient care on day one.
A suggestion for hospitals would be to have some sort of 'Strike Insurance' agreement with one or more of your staffing agencies. This 'insurance' would perhaps be something you pay for monthly, quarterly or annually and would allow you to identify key temporary staff that you have screened and oriented to your facility. It would also help you negotiate better rates so that paying for such a service would go towards the bill rates during a strike, keeping the rates reasonable and your budget more manageable.
I'm not sure if there are any staffing agencies out there that offer such a service but I think it's one worth considering. There is a great opportunity for all sides to make a bad situation more manageable. Healthcare staffing agencies can help both hospitals and nurses during a strike if more creative solutions are sought. I'd love to hear from any hospitals or staffing agencies that have been part of a strike situation to learn what their process and overall outcome was.