Nurses on leaves of absence could find their positions filled at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital if administrators get their way, a union spokeswoman said.
“I can tell you there are a lot of changes going on, and it has created quite a stir,” said Janet Weinberg, a nurses’ union representative.
That union is meeting with hospital administrators to discuss interpretation of nurses’ contracts relating to leaves of absence and whether the hospital can fill those positions, Weinberg said.
“We will hold a spot for an employee for up to a year, but in the meantime, we need to have an employee to perform that function,” said Jill McWilliams, chief nursing officer. “We want to continue to serve our community with the same level of care that is given, and (we) need to have nurses in place.”
The hospital’s administrators are looking to post job openings for positions where nurses have been away past a protected period but still within the one year of leave, McWilliams explained.
“There is no talk of layoffs,” said Debbie Plass, a hospital spokeswoman. “There has been no threat of layoffs.”
Under the proposed changes, if nurses return from leave to find their positions have been filled, they would be offered comparable positions elsewhere in the hospital.
“This affects nurses in all departments. It’s not just one area of the hospital,” said Lauren Clark, also a union representative. “We have nurses out from a lot of departments in the hospital.”
Though Clark and Weinberg were unsure of how many vacancies the hospital is looking to fill, they said that approximately a quarter of its nurses are currently on leaves of absence.
“This doesn’t mean we’re working short-staffed, necessarily,” Plass said.
But to fill LOA positions would violate nurses’ contracts, union representatives said.
“That has been the union’s position for more than 20 years, and that is the position we are continuing to enforce,” Weinberg said. “We have a new management, people we have never worked with before, and they are seeing things in a different way. So we have to discuss the reasons for our position based on the contract language and interpretation.”
The key word is “interpretation.”
“It’s basically been a discussion at this time,” McWilliams said.
“We have requested a list of employees and made some suggestions to them about how to deal with the situation that we have, which is a lot of people on leave of absence right now,” Weinberg said. “Everything that we have suggested are things that are within the guidelines of the contract that have not been implemented at this point.”
Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital first opened its doors in December 1958 and today is part of Dignity Health system, which was previously known as Catholic Healthcare West — a nonprofit hospital system that is one of the largest health care providers in the United States.
In December 2012, the hospital announced plans to close its transitional care unit the following February, notifying that department’s 21 full-time equivalent employees weeks before Christmas.
“We are looking at the LOA policy and contract, what the terms are and how to proceed,” Plass said. “There is no decision at this point. It’s all a matter of discussion.”
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