UPDATE | Registered nurses at Cabell Huntington Hospital announce plans for a union

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – UPDATE 10/9/19 @ 7:30 p.m.
Dozens of registered nurses came together outside Cabell Huntington Hospital Wednesday to voice their frustration and show that they're trying to unionize.

Registered nurses at Cabell Huntington Hospital announced Wednesday their plans to start a union.

"Since I got here, it's progressively gotten worse," registered nurse Shannon Caskey said.

They say short-staffing and being forced to work overtime has led to this.

"The expectation of what nurses are expected to do, the list has gotten longer, but they don't want to give you any more hands to help," nurse Mary Beth Scott said. "It's not fair to patients. It's not fair to the families."

Officials with the SEIU, a union that represents other departments at the hospital, say they'll be filing paperwork so the 900 registered nurses at Cabell Huntington can vote on whether to join.

"These nurses are united for patients," Joyce Gibson, the SEIU director for Region 1, said. "They're demanding the short-staffing stop. As long as this company is spending millions of dollars and not putting back into the nurses and the employees, that's a problem."

The hospital released a statement saying they're "surprised to learn of the SEIU's assertions that Cabell Huntington Hospital nursing care, particularly in critical care units, is not high quality."

The statement says they haven't gotten any reports against nursing quality. It says this has arisen as a result of recent medical plan changes that introduced premiums. For a full copy of the hospital's statement, see the original story below.

Nurses did say the benefits changes factored into their desire to unionize.

"With all these changes, it's sure not going to influence people to want to come work here," Caskey said.

"We need a contract and negotiating power so we can have safe nursing ratios with our patients," Scott said.

The SEIU has represented workers in several departments at the hospital for more than 40 years, but never nurses.

There's no timeline on when a vote to join the union would take place.

The hospital's statement says the current benefit structure is not sustainable, and they have to control expenses to remain competitive.

The statement says they'll continue to invest in wages and benefits that are most beneficial to staff.

You can read the hospital's statement in its entirety below.

Registered nurses at Cabell Huntington Hospital have decided it’s time to unionize.

They made the announcement Wednesday afternoon just outside the hospital along Hal Greer Boulevard, citing concerns about the future of quality care in the region.

The decision to unionize will affect nearly 900 registered nurses. Organizers say changes in the hospital’s operation under Mountain Health, the parent company of both Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center, prompted their decision.

"The registered nurses of Cabell Huntington Hospital have worked side-by-side with Union workers for more than 40 years, but they have made the decision to come together now after Mountain Health has refused to properly staff the hospital and proposed major changes in hospital operations that could put quality care at risk in our community," said Joyce Gibson, regional director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, in a news release.

Molly K. Frick, director of Human Resources at Cabell Huntington Hospital, released the following statement Wednesday evening:

"We are surprised to learn of the SEIU’s assertions that Cabell Huntington Hospital nursing care, particularly in critical care units, is not high quality. Cabell Huntington Hospital is proud of the high-quality care nurses provide in all departments. Cabell has been recognized in the form of national accreditations and has received multiple awards for achieving high quality care and outcomes.

"In fact, Cabell Huntington Hospital is the only hospital in West Virginia and the Tri-State region to be named to America’s 250 Best Hospitals list by Healthgrades. This award recognizes the top 5% of 5,000 hospitals in the nation for clinical excellence. Cabell received this award for demonstrating superior clinical outcomes across many common inpatient conditions and procedures and sustaining this performance for at least five consecutive years. Not only does this award demonstrate Cabell’s superior clinical outcomes and sustained performance in terms of the highest quality patient care, it also recognizes collaboration and teamwork across the organization. In addition, Cabell also has been recognized as one of Healthgrades 2019 America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Orthopedic Surgery and among America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Joint Replacement for more than eight years in a row. For a complete listing of Cabell Huntington Hospital awards, visit us on the web at www.cabellhuntington.org.

"We are disappointed SEIU would make this claim as Cabell has not received reports against nursing quality. In reality, this issue has arisen as a result of the recent medical plan changes that have been announced for all non-bargaining employees. We have enjoyed healthcare benefits without premiums, though most other employers have required their employees to pay healthcare premiums for over 25 years. Only 1% of large employers (200 or more employees) nationally do not charge medical benefit premiums. The decision for medical plan changes was delayed in 2019 to consider all options and lessen the impact on staff. However, the current benefit structure is not sustainable. We must control expenses to remain competitive in the healthcare market and thrive in the future.

"Cabell Huntington Hospital has been recognized regionally and nationally as a “Best Place to Work” for its robust benefits, wellness initiatives, commitment to diversity and inclusion, professional development opportunities and work environments that promote employee satisfaction and work-life balance. Cabell Huntington Hospital has received this honor multiple years. We will continue to invest in wages and benefits that are most beneficial to staff.

"Cabell Huntington Hospital is disappointed by the SEIU’s false claims about the quality of our healthcare services because the SEIU has represented employees in multiple departments for more than 40 years. Nevertheless, we will continue to work professionally and in good faith with SEIU in all matters affecting those existing union employees in the future."

We will have more on this developing story. Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.