The union representing nurses at the three public hospitals in Prince George's County withdrew a suit late yesterday that asked management to immediately rehire 650 employes fired a week ago, according to hospital officials.
The Maryland Nurses Association had asked earlier this week for a temporary restraining order to rescind the firings by hospital administrators, who said fewer patients and a growing deficit required that they reduce the total work force at the facilities by nearly 25 percent.
While only 50 registered nurses were fired, the association had argued that the massive dismissals violated the patient-care standards in the union's contract.
The suit sought to return the operation to its former level until the two sides could agree on the necessary staffing.
The two sides had met several times this week with each other and, in conference calls, had discussions with U.S. District Judge Frank A. Kaufman in Baltimore.
The last call to the judge informing him of the decision by the nurses not to proceed with the suit came around 6:30 p.m. yesterday.
Neither nurses association officials nor their attorneys could be reached for comment last night.
Earlier yesterday, both sides had been preparing for a meeting today in Baltimore with Kaufman.
Corbett A. Price, acting chief executive officer of the Prince George's hospitals, said the nurses union had agreed to allow the dispute to be handled through binding arbitration, the normal procedure to settle disputes under the contract.
"None of our managerial prerogatives have been compromised," said Price, who is also a vice president of the Hospital Corp. of America, a firm hired in June to manage Prince George's General Hospital in Cheverly, the Greater Laurel Beltsville Hospital and the Bowie Health Center, an ambulatory-care clinic. "We prevailed," he said.
"It indicates there is no immediate danger as a result of the staffing reduction program," said Price, "so that negates their whole argument.
"It just proves we do have excellent care and the care has not been compromised," according to Price.
Wayne Curry, general counsel of the nonprofit Community Hospital and Health Care Systems Inc., which leases the hospitals from the county and hired HCA, said the hospitals' labor lawyer received a call earlier yesterday from Douglas Taylor, a lawyer representing the nurses.
"It didn't take long," Curry said. "They said, 'We'll come to an agreement.' "
The union representatives went to Prince George's General and agreed to withdraw their lawsuit following a 10-minute meeting, said hospital spokeswoman Mary Stuart Rizk.
"This will alleviate some of the unfounded fear created in the community because of the nurses' irresponsible allegations" that the quality of patient care had been immediately harmed by the firings, she said.