RGH nurses hold candlelight vigil to recognize risk to patients; Will vote on whether to strike

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The union that represents nearly 900 nurses and allied professionals at Rochester General Hospital held a candlelight vigil Thursday for what they call a recognition of risk to patients.

Nurses at Rochester General Hospital will vote next week on whether to go on strike. Leaders at the Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals (RUNAP) say that because of short-staffing at the hospital, patients are at risk. According to a study by the union, more than 80 percent of total shifts were reported to be unsafe at the hospital. The vigil took place at the hospital.

“We’ve made a lot of progress up before our last strike vote,” said RUNAP president Carmen Camelio. “Since then, we’ve made little progress. The hospital does continue to make labor violations. It’s time that they invest appropriately in our beside care and stop talking about what’s reasonable and start doing what’s necessary.”

If the union votes to strike, it will be the second time. The union held a two-day strike in August after it couldn’t reach a deal with Rochester General Hospital leaders on wages, staffing, benefits, and other work conditions. The strike didn’t impact patient care and the hospital temporarily contracted hundreds of nurses.

Nurses say they deserve better pay and are spread too thin to provide good care for patients. They unionized last year and are trying to reach their first ever contract. RUNAP and hospital leaders met on Monday for their 23rd collective bargaining session since last October that ended without an agreement.

Here is a statement about the vigil from Rochester Regional Health, which owns the hospital:

“Rochester General Hospital (RGH) is absolutely committed to patient safety. It’s disappointing that the Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals (RUNAP) decided to publicly disparage the excellent care that our doctors, nurses, other providers and the rest of our staff, deliver to the Rochester community.”

“At RGH, we are committed to ensuring we have the appropriate level of staff to meet the needs of our patients. We are continuously recruiting full-time nurses and are pleased to have hired 217 new nurses so far in 2023, with another 39 nurses set to begin before the end of the year. Our current nurse vacancy is 12% and will drop to 5% in the next week as we bring in additional agency nurses to supplement our needs. These vacancy rates compare very well to other hospitals in New York State and around the country, especially as the entire healthcare industry continues to navigate the ongoing nursing shortage.”

“We’re also focused on continuous improvements that ensure the best possible healthcare outcomes for our patients. RGH is consistent with or better than the national average when it comes to key patient mortality rates and the hospital’s readmission rate is in line with the national rate, according to Medicare.”

“Finally, we are pleased to have received repeated external validation of the quality of our care. Healthgrades has identified RGH as one of America’s 50 Best Hospitals from 2019 – 2023 and we have been named to U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Regional Hospitals” in both 2022 and 2023.”  

“Despite our best efforts to appropriately staff the hospital to meet the needs of our patients, there are circumstances outside of our control that can impact our staffing levels. While we understand unexpected situations like illness or family issues happen, we still had 180 nurses call out of work from September 24 – October 1, for a total of 1,880 unworked hours. By making every effort to come into work, our nurses can help to prevent unanticipated staffing challenges from occurring at the hospital.”  

“Ultimately, RUNAP’s event doesn’t help us get where we need to be, and we feel their efforts and energy would be better spent on negotiating with us to reach a first collective bargaining agreement for our nurses.”