Striking nurses in Prince George's County have written a letter to Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs alleging that Community Hospital and Health Care Systems, Inc., the corporation that runs three hospitals in the county, is breaking state law by hiring so-called "flying nurses" as strikebreakers.
Officials of the Maryland Nurses' Association said yesterday they have the names of nurses from temporary agencies around the country who have been brought here to work during the strike. Some of the same nurses also came to Physicians' Memorial hospital in LaPlata last winter when there was a 90-day nurses' strike, they said. The association declined to provide their names.
Maryland law says it is "unlawful to recruit . . . or supply individuals routinely for the purpose of strikebreaking." It also is against the law for individuals to work repeatedly for the purpose of strikebreaking.
A spokesman for the hospital corporation that operates Prince George's General Hospital, Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital and Bowie Health Center, acknowledged yesterday that 50 new nurses have been hired from around the country and that more are expected this week.
The spokesman, Mike Canning, said that these nurses were hired "by virtue of our recruiting effort." Hospital attorneys have said that the corporation is not in violation of the state strikebreakers law because the nurses are being sought to fill vacant positions. But Canning acknowledged that not all of the new hires are expected to stay on for permanent jobs.
Canning said that he could not name the agencies that have provided the nurses nor disclose the fees paid to the agencies. He said that the new nurses are being paid at the same rate as regular registered nurses employed by the hospital, ranging from $8.36 to $12 an hour, depending upon their experience.
The hospital corporation also paid the new nurses' air fares, and many of them are being housed in rooms at two of the hospitals, hospital officials said.
The attorney general's office has not yet received the letter from the striking nurses.
The nurses' strike, which involves some 500 of 650 registered staff nurses, is the largest in recent memory in the Washington area and was in its ninth day yesterday.
The hospital corporation says that patient care has not been diminished by the strike, but the intensive care nursery at Prince George's General continues to be understaffed, according to hospital doctors.
Dr. Jessica Ratra, an obstetrician, said that she had transferred three patients, including a woman in labor, to other hospitals. She said that staffing for the regular nursery is satisfactory.
Union and hospital management met in downtown Washington with a federal mediator yesterday for the first time since the strike began on Aug. 29, in an attempt to break the stalemate in the contract talks. The dispute centers on pay and nurses' responsibilities.
Early yesterday, neither side was optimistic about the talks. But Canning said later that "the union came in making some positive suggestions" that management was considering. Negotiations are to resume this afternoon.