BURLINGTON, Vt., Aug. 13– U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called on the University of Vermont Medical Center Board of Trustees Monday “to take a more active role in the contract negotiations between management and the nurses’ union.”
In a letter to Allie Stickney, the chair of the Board of Trustees, Sanders said, “The primary responsibility and obligation of any non-profit board is not to management, but to the organization, and that includes providing oversight and guidance on issues related to the organization’s workforce.”
“For most people, the nurses are the hospital,” Sanders said. “They are also our neighbors, friends and family. Vermonters want to see them paid fairly and treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
Negotiations between the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and the hospital administration resumed Monday.
“No hospital can operate effectively without a strong and highly motivated nursing workforce. Yet, UVM-MC – the largest and most important component of Vermont’s healthcare delivery system – is facing a serious nursing crisis. The hospital has a high nurse turnover rate and more than 170 vacancies, as nurses leave for higher paying jobs elsewhere,” Sanders said.
The nurses’ contract covering approximately 1,800 registered nurses, nurse practitioners and licensed practical nurses expired on July 9 and the nurses launched a two-day strike on July 12. The nurses are asking for more competitive compensation to attract and retain nurses, as well as to achieve wage parity with Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, New York, which is also part of the UVM Health Network.
No agreement has been reached on the nurses’ request for fair and competitive wages, a hospital-wide $15 minimum wage and improved staffing levels to ensure quality patient care.
Julie MacMillan, lead negotiator for the nurses, summarized the nurses’ goals last month during a press conference in Sanders’ Burlington office. “We have been in negotiations since the end of March and the hospital is not hearing us,” she said. “We are not asking for Boston wages or New York City wages. We are looking for parity within our own network. We are looking for parity with Plattsburgh wages.”
The hospital has reportedly spent $21 million during the past three years on expensive travel nurses to fill in the gaps in service. “All of this has driven nurse morale to an all-time low,” Sanders said, adding, “and I very much fear it may be affecting the quality of patient care, as well.”
Sanders called on the board to immediately help resolve this crisis and make sure that patients at the hospital receive the high-quality care they deserve. “That is why I respectfully urge the Board to meet with the nurses, hear their concerns and direct the administration to negotiate a fair contract,” Sanders said.
To read Sanders’ letter to the Board, click here.
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