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Doctors Say a Strike by Nurses Would Risk Future of Children’s Hospital

Doctors Say a Strike by Nurses Would Risk Future of Children’s Hospital

Henry L. Davis / Buffalo News

December 20, 2008

The physician group that represents the 1,800-member medical staff at Kaleida Health warned Friday that a threat of a labor strike at Women & Children’s Hospital could cause serious and permanent damage to the pediatric institution.

“This is a nightmare and has real potential to happen. As a medical staff, we can’t let it occur,” said Dr. James Budny, president of the 18-member medical executive committee.

But the union representing employees in contract negotiations, 1199 Service Employees International Union Healthcare Workers, says it currently has no plans for a strike and questions whether Kaleida Health is stoking fears of a work stoppage to divert attention away from contractual issues.

“We are not going to act irresponsibly or precipitously. Our highest priority is to work through the issues and get a contract,” said Bruce Popper, a union vice president.

A minimum 10-day notice of a strike or other labor action is required by federal law. Hospital officials and physicians say the threat of a work stoppage, not just the strike itself, poses problems because the hospital is obligated to transfer patients to other facilities to ensure their safety when it receives a strike notice.

Among the problems cited by doctors: the only other neonatal intensive care unit in Buffalo is located at Catholic Health’s Sisters Hospital, but it does not have the capacity to care for the 51 newborns in the Women & Children’s NICU, meaning the infants would have to be transferred by ambulance to hospitals in other cities.

“You’re going to be shipping medically unstable kids on ventilators hundreds of miles away. It’s inconceivable,” said Budny.

Women & Children’s is a part of Kaleida Health, which also includes Buffalo General, Millard Fillmore, Millard Fillmore Suburban and DeGraff Memorial hospitals.

In recent months, two SEIU bargaining units at Kaleida Health voted to approve a new contract, but seven other units rejected the deal. The bargaining units’ previous contracts expired May 31.

The union represents 3,500 registered nurses, nurse practitioners, administrative workers and maintenance personnel. The largest share, about 1,700 workers, is employed at Women & Children’s.

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