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Nurses union balks at proposal to link raises to patient surveys: Sanford Bemidji, Minnesota Nurses Association are working on new contract

BEMIDJI—A statewide nurses union says administrators at a Bemidji hospital want to link nurses' pay to patient satisfaction survey scores.

Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association said that they've agreed to the bulk of the terms of a new contract with Sanford Bemidji, but the raises-to-scores connection is a sticking point.

"The nurses are not interested in that," said Liz Binkert, MNA Chair at the hospital. Nurses generally don't have direct control over the factors that make up a patient satisfaction score, she said. "If you have to share a room your satisfaction isn't as high as if you have your own room...Or maybe on a specific day there aren't enough nurses scheduled to work to take care of the patients that are there, so it might take the nurse longer to get into the room."

Hospitals are generally tight-lipped about any negotiations and disputes they have with their employees' unions. Sanford declined to provide the Pioneer with a copy of the satisfaction survey and issued a statement by Brian Mathews, the hospital's senior human resources director.

"We have a business practice of not publicly discussing conversations between Sanford and its business partners, such as MNA, while those conversations are underway," Mathews' statement reads in part. "We feel this practice helps facilitate conversation and provides the appropriate climate for both parties to reach a mutually acceptable agreement."

The union and hospital's old contract expired at the end of February and a new one would be made retroactive to that date. Nurses association staffers said it's not uncommon to still be negotiating a new contract after the old one expires—the old contract was signed in June 2014 and made retroactive to February of that year. Union staff said representatives from the hospital and union met three times in February and have another meeting scheduled for Friday.

Mary Scattarelli, a labor relations specialist at the union, said the two sides are "very close" to an agreement.

The hospital's Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements are based, in part, on the satisfaction scores, and the exact mechanism by which the surveys would be linked to nurses' raises is still up in the air, Scaterrelli explained. She stressed that the union is flatly opposed to the idea.

Scattarelli said no other MNA contract has a provision that attaches wage increases to satisfaction surveys.

"For the nurses, there's just too many variables attached, and it's something that should not go in the contract," she said.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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