Few patients in the waiting rooms of the Group Health Association say they've suffered as a result of a three-week-old nurses' strike. But even those who have say they'd be willing to pay increased fees to give the nurses the raises they're demanding.
The 80 nurses and five physical therapists were still picketing the five GHA centers in the metropolitan area yesterday and, since Monday, negotiations have been adjourned indefinitely.
But by yesterday, all 105 physicians had returned to work at the five facilities that GHA runs in the area. As many as half had stayed out earlier in support of the nurses' demands.
"That hurts," conceded Jan Greenberg, one of the nurses who's been negotiating with management. "But they felt they had a duty to the members. And they have bills to pay, too."
Dr. Donald Mitchell, president of the independent union representing GHA physicians, described his own and his colleagues' return to work as "a hollow victory for GHA. Morale is terrible. It was strictly a matter of the pocketbook. The doctors are still in sympathy with the nurses."
Dr. Edward J. Hinman, executive director of GHA, said that with the return to duty of the doctors, they and other staff members had increased their ability to handle patients' visits "to over 100 percent of normal."
Most patients interviewed at the downtown center agreed that they had not suffered an appreciable decline in treatment beyond being forced to wait longer than usual. But there was general concurrence that the nurses' demands for higher pay and increased staff were justified.
Emma Edwards, who was waiting to have her 15-month-old son Brandon examined, said she hadn't encountered any difficulty as a result of the strike. But, said Edwards, "those nurses take good care of Brandon and I don't want to see them leave.
"You have to pay for good medical health care. If they get a better offer somewhere else, they'll leave. Then I'll suffer and my son will suffer. I know some hospitals would love to get these nurses."
Edwards, who lives in Northeast Washington, said she'd been a GHA member for 2 1/2 years as a result of her husband's being enrolled through his employer, Pepco.
"No one wants costs passed on to them," she said. "But I'd rather have the costs roll on to me than lose good care. The nurses I've dealt with are very good--not just with professional work, but little things like looking after the baby while I get my examination."
Henry C. Jackson of Texas Avenue SE said that he'd been a GHA member for about 25 years and that he had "nothing against paying more" if necessary to grant the nurses the raise they seek.
"But, if I pay for steak, I expect steak and not slop," Jackson said. "I don't disagree with their demands, provided they do their job."
Jackson, 53, who said that he was a medical technician at D.C. General Hospital, said there was nothing unusual about the GHA nurses' claims. "Nurses are understaffed and overworked everywhere," he said.
Marie Stigliani was chatting with one of the striking nurses, Mary Beard, on the picket line. Stigliani carried her 4-week-old daughter Marisa in a pouch slung around her neck. Beard, a specialist in high-risk pregnancies, had provided care to Stiglianiwhile she was pregnant.
Stigliani said she herself is a nurse, now on maternity leave from the National Hospital for Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation in Arlington. With a bachelor's degree and three years of experience, she said, she was now earning about $17,000 a year.
Beard, with nine years of experience and a B.S. in nursing from Hunter College, earns $15,500 a year and, she says, works weekends at George Washington University Hospital in order to help pay the mortgage for the house she and her husband bought recently in Bowie.
"That's just not right," said Stigliani. "It's an outrage."
Grace Sims, 67, who with her husband Lewis has been a GHA member since 1937, was the only patient interviewed who said she suffered seriously as a result of the strike.
Sims said she developed a bleeding problem that alarmed her and she called GHA for an appointment, but could not see a doctor until 17 days later. "I think the nurses should get the raise they want," Sims said. "But their strike isn't justified at the expense of my body."
Dr. Bernie Slosberg, GHA's chief of internal medicine, said yesterday that he studied Sims' medical record and took exception to her claim. "I don't have a problem with the care that was provided," he said.