DREXEL HILL, Pa. (CBS) -- Hospital officials say Delaware County Memorial Hospital is open, fully staffed, and serving patients as usual, despite all 370 nurses and technicians walking off the job at 6:45 a.m. Sunday over "unfair labor practices."
"We used to have five patients to one nurse on the floors. Now they're giving us up to seven and eight. They've also cut our nurses' aides. We used to have two for 20; now we have one for 20," said Angela Neopolitano, a 36-year veteran ICU nurse at the hospital, who is also the president of the local Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) chapter. "I walk through the halls and there are nurses crying because we can't do it. And we want to give good care because that's what we're known for."
DCMH had prepared a contingency plan when union officials threatened a strike two weeks ago after twelve hours of failed contract negotiations.
The two sides reportedly held 21 meetings over the last year to try to reach an agreement; they met again in an emergency meeting Friday in an unsuccessful effort to prevent the strike. Upper Darby Mayor Tom Micozzie organized a meeting Saturday evening between federal, state, and local elected officials and executives at Crozer-Keystone Health System in a final effort to avoid the planned two-day strike, but that too failed.
A spokesman for the Crozer-Keystone Health System tells Eyewitness News that doctors, non-union caregivers, support staff, and an additional team of licensed and certified nurses and technicians are still working.
Some nurses and technicians tell Eyewitness News they've been forced to do more with less after the California-based for-profit company, Prospect Medical Holdings, acquired the hospital in July 2016.
They claim the company never invested the $200 million they had promised when they took over.
"We're told, 'answer the call bells within so many minutes, don't leave anyone on the bathroom by themselves.' You can't do all that. I'm in a room with a patient and their family and I'm hearing all the call lights, and I know it's just me and another nurse," said nurse Renee Cassidy. "It's unsafe. It is so scary. I always wanted to be a nurse and I can't believe I work for a company that has no respect for their patients or for their employees."
Many of the nurses on strike have spent their careers at Delaware County Memorial Hospital and apologized to their patients for walking off the job, which they view as a short-term loss that they hope will lead to long-term improvements.
In a statement to Eyewitness News, a hospital spokesman wrote, in part, "We regret that PASNAP has been unwilling to agree to a reasonable settlement and has now called upon its members to abandon patients at the bedside in an attempt to wrest even higher wages and benefits from the hospital… The union is doing its best to make this dispute about staffing, when it is really about the union's unwillingness to accept reasonable increases in wages and benefits that are already generous. Nurses - who already average an annual salary of $82,852, with a pension, 401(k), as many as 49 days of paid time off and outstanding medical coverage - have walked out on DCMH patients."
The spokesman adds that the highest paid nurse has a salary of more than $160,000 and said that "there has been no change at all in how staffing is done at DCMH since Prospect Medical Holdings, Inc., purchased the health system in July 2016."
In response, union officials said, "It is simply false for the Hospital to claim that staffing levels did not change when Prospect Medical Holdings took over in July of 2016. For example, in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, prior to Prospect, the nurse assigned to be Charge Nurse was expected to perform her duties as charge nurse without having the additional burden of caring for one or two critically ill patients at the same time. After Prospect, the Charge Nurse in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit now must care for two critically ill patients while simultaneously performing all of the functions of Charge Nurse."
Those striking say they plan to continue picketing outside the hospital until 7:30 p.m. Sunday and will end the strike Monday.
Hospital leaders say because staffing agencies require five days of pay to get temporary replacements, the work stoppage is expected to continue until Friday.
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