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Renown nurses say low wages, high turnover can jeopardize patient safety

Renown Regional Medical Center
Renown Regional Medical Center
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Nurses at Renown Regional Medical Center say low salaries have contributed to high turnover in recent years, prompting concerns about patient safety.

The contract between nurses union SEIU and Renown recently expired, and is being extended month-to-month while the two sides negotiate on the major sticking points.

Allison Fuller, who leads the nurses' bargaining committee, said their biggest concern right now is retention. Fuller said many nurses stay at Renown for less than six months before being recruited to other hospitals for higher pay.

"It's very frustrating," Fuller said. "I have been on my unit for about a year and a half and I'm considered one of the senior nurses."

According to research done by the union, Renown nurses on average are paid $4-12 less per hour than their competitors. Fuller also said starting salaries have remained stagnant for several years.

News 4-Fox 11 reached out to Renown earlier in the week and followed up on multiple occasions requesting an on-camera interview for this story. Renown denied that request but a spokesperson released the following statement:

"Renown has been in negotiations with SEIU, the union that represents Renown Regional bargaining unit registered nurses, since May 2017. We continue to negotiate in good faith and are committed to working with SEIU. We respect the collective bargaining process and look forward to reaching a fair contract."

The two biggest concerns shared among the nurses, Fuller said, are retention and patient safety.

Fuller herself was tasked with training new nurses just six months after she started, which she called "unnerving." She also said many nurses are offered jobs during their Renown orientation.

"When you have a floor (where) the majority of nurses (have) less than two years experience, there are some patient safety concerns," Fuller said.

Renown spokesperson Allie Williams said 1,170 nurses at Renown Regional are represented by the union. About 230 traveling nurses are also currently on staff, Williams said.

Fuller questioned whether Renown is too reliant on traveling nurses and new graduates.

Depending on how patients are assigned, traveling nurses can sometimes make up 50 percent of the nurses in a given unit, Fuller said.

"We're hiring new graduates to our intensive care units and our emergency room. So our critical care areas hire new grads," Fuller said. "Other hospitals maintain their rule of no less than a year experience before you're in the ICU or the ER."

"It's a clear sign that we are constantly struggling to keep our nurses."

Negotiations to renew the contract have been happening about four times a month since late May. Fuller said both sides have agreed on some smaller issues, but are still negotiating on larger problems, such as pay.

"I wish that processes like this didn't take as long," Fuller said. "But we are comfortable handling it this way if this is how it needs to be for us to get heard."

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A union representative said a nurses strike isn't on the table right now, but could be if further negotiations are unsuccessful.

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