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Article updated: 8/28/2013 7:04 PM

Maryville denies psychiatric hospital is unsafe for nurses

By Madhu Krishnamurthy

Maryville Academy has issued a statement denying a nurses union's claims about unsafe working conditions at the academy's Behavioral Health Hospital in Des Plaines.

The Illinois Nurses Association has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming hospital management won't negotiate on mandatory bargaining issues such as staffing.

Union spokeswoman Alice Johnson said Wednesday the reason the 24 nurses at the hospital unionized last November was largely due to safety issues and staffing problems at the hospital, which provides inpatient psychiatric care for children, adolescents and young adults between 3 and 20 years old.

Johnson said nurses complained of "riots" in the units, and related two separate situations in which a nurse was stabbed and another suffered a concussion when the nurse's head was pressed up against a wall.

"When you don't have enough staff the nurses can't really keep the unit safe," she said.

Maryville Academy spokesman John Gorman said the stabbing was a puncture wound a nurse suffered two years ago when an agitated patient wrested control of a hypodermic needle and struck the nurse in the chest.

Gorman said a nurse suffered a concussion last year while restraining an adolescent patient in danger of hurting himself or other patients. Both nurses later returned to work and remain employed at Maryville, he said.

"Our concern for the safety of our staff is as important to Maryville as the professional treatment we provide for our acutely mentally ill children and young adults at the Maryville Behavioral Health Hospital," Gorman said in a written statement.

The management's bargaining team has met with the union 10 times since February for roughly "40 hours of negotiations," he added.

Johnson said there has been little actual negotiating since March, with both sides coming to a tentative agreement on just one issue -- who can be included in the bargaining unit.

"(Staffing) has been brought up but their response has been, 'It's a management decision'," she said.

Johnson said the hospital is licensed for 180 beds but is not operating at full capacity. The union has proposed having one registered nurse for every six patients -- the current ratio fluctuates between 1:8 and 1:24 -- and a minimum of one staff member for every two patients in all areas, she said. The hospital has about 100 support staff members.

The next bargaining session is set for Sept. 5.

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