WILKES-BARRE — Red, white and blue American flags and yellow picket signs.
Members of the Wyoming Valley Nurses Association say their decision to walk off the job at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital on Independence Day is personal.
“Make it more difficult, perhaps, for the hospital to get replacement nurses. Obviously, those replacement nurses don’t come cheap, and if they’re working a holiday, it’s even more money,” said Elaine Weale, president of the Nurses Association.
Weale says registered nurses have been working without a contract at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital for more than a year and a half.
Nurses walked off the job for one day in December, and now they’re on a five-day strike, demanding better health insurance, pay and staffing from the hospital’s owner, Commonwealth Health.
“I’ve personally seen unsafe staffing in our unit,” says surgical ICU nurse Lauren Hostetler. “We’ve seen many cutbacks. We don’t have secretaries at night, we don’t have aides at night. When we have emergencies, there’s five of us scrambling.”
In a written statement, Commonwealth Health says 79 registered nurses have already crossed the picket line to report to work, and dozens of temporary replacement nurses have been brought in from across the country to keep Wilkes-Barre General open.
“I have a nurse in my mother’s room,” said Diane Dwinchick of Wyoming. “She’s from Alabama and she’s just fantastic. I can’t say enough for them.”
Other people tell Newswatch 16 they did have concerns about bringing their loved ones to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital at the start of a five day nurses strike.
Union members say they’re also worried about non-union staff being cut, but nurses on the picket line will return to work Wednesday morning whether or not they have a new contract.
Dwinchick says she’s worried about her mother with pneumonia, but she supports the workers on strike.
“The nurses have always been wonderful here,” she says. “They’ve given my mother wonderful care. I can’t say enough about them. I do hope that they get what they want.”
Commonwealth Health says surgeries and services will continue as normal inside Wilkes-Barre General Hospital as the strike continues outside.