Nurses at the Maryville Behavioral Health Hospital in Des Plaines could be on the picket lines as soon as Monday if an agreement isn't reached with management over staffing levels and salaries, officials said.
The nurses, represented by the Illinois Nurses Association, have filed an intent to strike notice, citing "unfair labor practices" by the hospital's management.
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Negotiations are continuing this week between bargaining teams for the psychiatric hospital and the union, which represents 24 full-time and part-time acute care nurses. The union's membership voted unanimously last week to authorize a strike, which would occur if talks between both sides break down, union officials said.
Were a strike to occur, it could legally only last up to five days -- since the strike voted on and authorized by nurses is an "unfair labor practice" strike, said Alice Johnson, executive director of the Illinois Nurses Association.
Johnson said staffing levels and safety is a concern of the union, and cited a list of 16 incidents in October and November of 2013 in which nurses and other hospital workers involved in patient care were "hit, kicked and choked."
"We're very concerned about the hospital's position that the staffing levels are safe or the injuries are not something that's out of line with other work places," Johnson said. "If you don't have adequate staff, especially in a hospital that has psychiatric patients, it makes it very difficult to safely care for the patients."
Sister Catherine Ryan, Maryville's executive director, said she believes the facility is safe for both employees and patients and is working to minimize occurrence of injuries.
But extra staffing, she said, would cost extra money that Maryville doesn't have.
Through Medicare, the state of Illinois provides approximately $800 per patient per day to fund hospital costs, even though it costs closer to $1,100. The union's proposal, Ryan said, would cost Maryville $1,250.
"I understand the nurses would like us to have even more staff. If we could afford it, we would," Ryan said. "For us, it's an economic dilemma. We want to work together and provide good care for our children, but we have to do it with the dollars we have."
Ryan said Maryville "meets and exceeds" the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry's recommended 1:12 nurse-to-patient ratio, and recommendations for additional mental health counselors. The number of patients in the facility fluctuates; on Monday, there were 32 patients, though there's typically 40 or 50, Ryan said.
The facility has 125 licensed beds, but there's never been more than 80 patients in the hospital at one time, Ryan said.
Officials say there's been 26 negotiating sessions between the two sides since February 2013. On Monday, negotiating teams met for the first time with a federal mediator to resolve remaining issues on the table. Nurses, who unionized in August 2012, are negotiating their first labor contract at the hospital.
Both sides say little progress was made in Monday's discussions, but they will meet again Friday.
Nurses at Maryville unionized in response to what union officials have said were safety issues and staffing problems at the facility, which provides inpatient psychiatric care for children, adolescents and young adults between 3 and 20 years old.
The intent to strike notice comes after settlement was reached in January over an unfair labor practice complaint filed by the union. As part of the agreement, Maryville officials did not admit to violating the National Labor Relations Act.
Should a strike occur, Maryville will bring in nurses from outside health care agencies to assist other workers in caring for patients, Ryan said.
If nurses do go on strike, they plan to picket outside the hospital at 555 W. Wilson Ave. starting at 7 a.m. March 10, and continuing through March 15.