BEMIDJI -- The Minnesota Nurses Association is planning an informational picket outside of Sanford Health's Bemidji facilities next week to represent employees who're seeking protection from the coronavirus.
Sanford Health officials, though, say it's an expected action as negotiations are underway between the provider and the MNA.
"We're in the middle of our contract negotiations with MNA, which come around every three years," said Joy Johnson, vice president of operations for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota. "They will usually do something like this, it's kind of in their playbook. It's consistent everywhere in the state."
According to a release from the MNA, the picket will include nurses "protesting retaliation against workers who have tried to protect themselves from the coronavirus."
The event is scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26. The MNA said that the event is specifically inspired by Bemidji Sanford nurse Tonya Moss, who was placed on administrative leave for trying to arrange alternative housing for healthcare workers.
"When we get complaints raised about an employee, we'll put that person on full-paid administrative leave," Johnson said. "Then we'll do an investigation of the complaint. It's a way to remove the person from the situation, and gives Sanford the opportunity to investigate."
Johnson also said Sanford is considering alternative housing. However, as the Bemidji location has not had any COVID-19 patients yet, she said it's too early to start reaching out.
"We've certainly had conversations with hotels, and they've been interested in providing us help at the time we might need it," Johnson said. "But, at this point, we have not asked for any specifics from them because we don't have any positive patients, so it's somewhat of a non-issue."
Additionally, Johnson said Sanford has held weekly town hall-style meetings for employees to answer questions.
In its release, MNA noted that the event is not a strike or work stoppage. No workers will leave their jobs to attend and no patient care will be affected. The program will take place outdoors and social distancing will be practiced.