The Washington Hospital Center has announced that it is "actively" seeking to hire more than 75 new registered nurses as the strike by the Center's staff nurses enters its 14th day today.
Hospital spokeswoman Jane Snyder said the new nurses, for whom the hospital will shortly begin to advertise in newspapers and nursing jounals, "are not replacements" for the roughly 260 striking nurses. "We are filling our alloted slots," said Snyder, who then added, "We may be over-hiring."
Nurses' union president Dottie Hararas responded to Hospital Center's announcement by saying that "any nurse who accepts employment at the Washinton Hospital Center during this strike is contributing in a personal way to a long strike . . . We have sought a contract which is fair and respects the rights of all parties. We will strike as long as it takes to win that contract."
When the strike began two weeks ago, the Hospital Center had on hand 425 nonsupervisory staff nurses and positions budgeted for a total of 500, leaving the hospital short 75 nurses.
This week 20 new nursing school graduates, whom the hospital says it hired prior to the strike, began work, leaving 55 slots open.
Snyder said, however that the hospital may well hire more than 55 new nurses. Asked waht would happen to those extra nurses when the strike ends, she said, "We don't know what the future would bring.
"No nurses who are now on strike who want to come back will be terminated," she said, adding that the hospital has offered an "amnesty" clause in its negotiations with the striking nurses.
Those negotiations, which ended when the negotiating nurses failed to return from a dinner break Sunday night, are now scheduled to resume Monday morning.
Snyder said that the nursing staff is being increased so the hospital "can get back to the business of taking care of patients.There's an indication of greater demand for our beds and we want to have the ability to admit more patients. We have many reservations already on the books for June and we want to use all the capacity we have.
The number of patients in the 911-bed Hospital Center, the largest private hospital in the Washington area and among the 20 largest in the country, has already climbed from a low of about 320, the level when the strike began, to 520 yesterday. Having 57 percent of the beds filled, however, still leaves the hospital far short of the 80 to 85 percent some experts say is needed for the institution to break even financially.
In order to cut costs at this point in the strike, the hospital has begun slashing departmental payrolls in each department by an average of 10 percent for all areas of the hospital except nursing, the school of nursing, engineering, the house staff (interns and residents) and public relations.
The people being affected most are the lower paid employes, cafeteria worker custodian and laundey workers like Kenny Lawrence, who stood in the hospital's sweltering laundry yesterday afternoon waiting for linens to distribute to the floors.
Lawrence and all laundry workers have been to work one hour less a day, or take unpaid leave or use vacation time. "They said they were short on funds because of the nurses" strike and can't make up their budgets," said Lawrence, who earns $4.88 cents an hour loading large "trucks" with linens and then distributes the cargo.
"I can't really get mad at the nurses," said Lawrence,"but I see the signs out there that say "Help us help you" and they're not really helping us."
Lawrence, who has been at the Hospital Center four years and lives with his wife in Southeast Washington, said he and his wife, who is a government secretary, will have to give up "activities that we do. We go bowling a lot, and we won't be able to."
He said he first learned of the cutbacks, which began Friday, when "they put a note up on the bulletin board and asked us to read it. They didn't tell us anything . They're encouraging us to take absence," he said with a wry smile.
There is no question that the hospital means less work for people like Lawrence, who said he "usually takes about 100 trucks around a day, but now it's about 50."