SCRANTON, Pa. -- Nurses at two hospitals in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties are off the job.
Rallies took place Wednesday at Moses Taylor in Scranton and First Hospital in Kingston where nurses organized the one-day strike.
Nurses and some medical staff at both Commonwealth Health facilities were part of the strike. They've been without a contract for a year, battling over staffing, safety pay, and health care.
Hospital workers say they're understaffed and it's putting the patients at risk. They've been in contract negations for over a year and say they hope this strike makes their statement loud and clear.
Registered nurses and mental health professionals from First Hospital hit the streets in Kingston protesting understaffing.
Tom Zelinka says he's been working for First Hospital for 28 years and he says he has never seen his coworkers stretched so thin.
"We're putting people in danger by not having the proper amount of staffing and that's what they have to look at," Zelinka said.
These health care professionals say they have come to the bargaining table more than 10 times trying to come to an agreement for a new contract with the hospitals' parent company Community Health Systems, but they hope this strike really gets the message across.
"We take care of patients, especially in the mental health community, at their most vulnerable times of their lives. That vulnerability needs special care," said Sarah Panattieri-Ciprianno, R.N.
Even patients marched alongside nurses and mental health care workers to show their support.
"I was released yesterday from First Hospital and the patient care here is excellent," said Mary Beth Harshbarger, Wyoming County.
While these workers have hit the picket lines, the hospital has hired an agency to make sure that patients are still getting the care that they need.
"If they want more people, then yes! If they want more money for what they're doing, I agree because they do an excellent job here," Harshbarger said.
We reached out to First Hospital and Moses Taylor Hospital for a comment. Representatives from both places say patient care is their top priority.
A candlelight vigil for patient safety is planned for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Courthouse Square in Scranton.
UPDATE: Shortly after this story aired on Wednesday evening Newswatch 16 received the following statements from both hospitals.
Clayton Nottelmann, chief human resources officer, First Hospital:
Securing highly qualified, temporary replacement nurses with specialized experience in behavioral health services requires more than a single-day commitment. For the well-being of our patients and their continued care, it is necessary to hire replacement nurses through 7:59 a.m. on April 30 for employees who chose to participate in SEIU’s strike. The decision to temporarily fill vacancies left by employees who chose to strike is made in the best interest of our patients.
First Hospital’s service and technical worker shifts are being filled with the hospital’s own qualified health care professionals and did not require the temporary hiring of specialists.
Moses Taylor Hospital – Elizabeth Leo, chief human resources officer, Moses Taylor Hospital
Moses Taylor Hospital is continuing to provide quality care for its patients. Teams of highly qualified, experienced, temporary replacement nurses are working along with our other professionals and medical staff to ensure uninterrupted care for patients. All inpatient, outpatient and emergency services are available and surgeries and diagnostic procedures are occurring as scheduled.
The hospital offered a fair and competitive, multi-year contract and continued to engage in good faith negotiations until the SEIU abruptly ended bargaining.
At Moses Taylor Hospital, we’re focused on providing safe, quality care and the best possible experience for our patients. To ensure the care required by our community, a commitment through 6:59 a.m. on April 30 is necessary to engage highly qualified, experienced temporary replacement nurses as a result of SEIU’s decision to strike.