Jun 01, 2023

Nurses at Kansas hospital overwhelmingly vote to strike

Posted Jun 01, 2023 6:00 PM
Photo National Nurses United
Photo National Nurses United

WICHITA —Nurses at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis hospital in Wichita have authorized a strike in a vote held this week, according to a statement from the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) 

In a vote concluded May 31, nurses voted 93% yes to authorize the strike. Nurses at the hospital, which is owned by Ascension, say they’ve had enough of the company’s practices putting profits before patients.

“Nurses are patient advocates at the bedside and, when we need to be, on the strike line,” said Angela Cammarn, RN in the cardiac intensive care unit. “It’s very hard to get nurses to leave their patients, but what Ascension management is doing to our facilities is simply unacceptable. We were hopeful that bargaining a strong contract would remedy our concerns, but it’s clear management needs to see how serious we are about improving patient care.”

Nurses will provide standard notice of a plan to strike at least ten days in advance. They say top issues for their contract include workplace violence prevention, safe staffing, and nursing staff recruitment and retention, according to a statement from the Union.

Nurses say they believe a strong contract is the way to make progress on all these issues, as it would codify violence prevention plans, mandate safe staffing levels, and generally improve the poor conditions that management has created, which are driving nurses away from the hospital. 

“This is about better health care for every single person in Wichita,” said Lisa Watson, RN in the medical intensive care unit. “As nurses, we see what’s going wrong in our hospital every day. As a union, we’re demanding management hear us out about our solutions to those problems and start taking action to make things go right.”

In November 2022, St. Francis became the largest hospital in Wichita and first private-sector hospital in the city to unionize when the nurses voted by a nearly two-to-one margin to join NNOC/NNU.

Months later, in March 2023, nurses at nearby Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph hospital voted to join NNOC/NNU, making them the second Ascension-owned facility in Wichita to join. Nurses at both facilities recently held a joint rally calling on Ascension management to bargaining with both facilities on a joint contract, as the hospitals are mere miles apart and serve overlapping patient populations.

Between St. Joseph and St. Francis, NNOC/NNU represents a total of nearly 1,000 Wichita-area nurses, with more than 650 at St. Francis and 300 at St. Joseph.

Ascension is one of the largest not-for-profit and Catholic hospital chains in the nation and was the central focus of the 2022 New York Times exposé, “How a Sprawling Hospital Chain Ignited Its Own Staffing Crisis.” 

The Times article reported that Ascension has $18 billion in cash reserves and has a long history of boasting about cutting labor costs by refusing to hire medical workers or fill open positions. Additionally, according to a 2022 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Ascension runs an investment company that manages more than $41 billion.