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Sanford Bemidji Medical Center nurses to vote on pact; Failure to approve contract could result in possible strike

More than 230 nurses employed by Sanford Bemidji Medical Center will vote Thursday, July 28, to accept or reject a contract offer from hospital management.

Rejection would authorize a strike, and bargaining committee leaders are unanimously recommending rejection.

Peter Danielson, RN, and Minnesota Nurses Association co-chair for Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, referred in a press release to the management's offer as "concession laden" and recommended that the bargaining team call a strike, which would require a two-thirds vote of MNA members.

"These ongoing negotiations with the union are normal," said Joy Johnson, chief operations officer for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota. "We go through this process every couple of years."

According to Danielson, sticking points in the negotiation include safe staffing levels and the ability for nurses to have what they believe to be adequate resources for care for patients at their bedsides. Other issues include hospital management's demand for major concessions from nurses in relation to their health care and pension plans. These concessions would make recruitment and retention of nurses difficult, Danielson said.

"Sanford has presented a fair plan based on current economic realities," Johnson said. "We have negotiated in good faith, openly and honestly. Through mutual compromise, we have already reached an agreement with our hospital nurses on staffing and scheduling to ensure ongoing patient safety."

Danielson maintains patient safety is indeed being compromised.

"This is Bemidji, and since 1898, our hospital had been there for the people of this community, Danielson said. "Our neighbors, friends and family members have come to expect their safety as patients comes before someone else's corporate profits. We want to ensure this remains the case, and the best way we know how is by reaching a contract agreement that puts patient safety ahead of corporate profits."

"It is disappointing that the union chose to go public with these confrontational comments," said Johnson. "Family is one of Sanford's core values, moving in one direction as a team, seeking to do what's best for all of our family members."

Nurses and hospital management have been negotiating since April in efforts to reach a new contract agreement. The nurses' current agreement with Sanford Bemidji Medical Center expired Feb. 28.

"In the end, this is in the hands of our nurses," Johnson said. "We encourage them to vote and thank them for their earnest deliberation."

Sanford merged with North Country Regional Hospital and the former MeritCare Bemidji Clinic in February to form Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota. As part of the affiliation, Sanford Health will invest $70 million in the community throughout the next 10 years in terms of facilities, recruitment and technology. Also, Sanford immediately will make a $5 million gift to the NCHS Foundation, which will remain an independent nonprofit governed by a board separate from Sanford Bemidji Board of Directors.

NCHS had more than 900 employees with 25,000 emergency visits, 5,500 acute admissions and 1,000 births a year.

Sanford Health is headquartered in Fargo, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D., and has 31 hospitals, 111 clinic locations and more than 800 physicians in 70 specialties of medicine.