Nurses strike over protective gear, pay in Connecticut |

More than 400 nurses at a Connecticut hospital began a two-day strike on Tuesday against what union leaders called low wages and struggles for enough personal protective equipment.

Dozens of nurses hit the picket line outside William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich in the rain and held up signs saying “Nurses on strike for unfair labor practices” and “PPE on profits ”.

The strike comes amid a breakdown in contract talks between the nurses’ union and hospital management, as well as an increase in coronavirus cases in Norwich and other communities in eastern Connecticut. The hospital is operated by Hartford HealthCare. Democratic Governor Ned Lamont said he was in communication with union and hospital leaders.

“I’m doing everything I can to remind both parties how important it is for Backus Hospital to go there… where the pandemic probably seems to be escalating a bit,” he said, adding that there should be no problems with nurses obtaining appropriate personal protective equipment, given the stocks that have been accumulated. “I am very hopeful that they are getting closer to the finish line. Keep these conversations going. We don’t want to wait until another day.”

Statewide, the infection rate was 2.4% on Tuesday, the highest since June. It has been around 7% in Norwich in recent days. The number of people hospitalized statewide jumped from 17 since Monday to 172, and 25 were in New London County, where Backus is located. In contrast, there were 2,000 daily hospitalizations statewide at the start of the pandemic.

“It’s not unexpected, but it’s incredibly unnerving and a little exhausting,” Lamont said of the slowly increasing rate of infection in the state.

But he said the state had carried out tests in hot spots like Norwich and New London and urged residents to remain vigilant and continue to social distancing and wearing masks. He noted how it worked to bring the rate down in Danbury, where there has been a slight increase in cases recently.

The Backus Federation of Nurses, AFT Local 5149 and hospital management have been in contract negotiations since June. Unionized nurses voted to authorize a strike last month.

Donna Handley, president of Backus and Windham hospitals, said in a statement that Backus would remain open and called the strike “heartbreaking.” She said nurses were offered “significant” pay increases – 12.5% ​​over three years – as well as additional paid time off and a 2% cut in health care premiums.

“The hospital has done everything possible to avoid a strike,” said Handley, who is a nurse herself. “We are ready to find common ground, and we want to reach an agreement on a fair contract. The union, unfortunately, is ready to strike, causing an unprecedented degree of disruption during an unprecedented health crisis . “

State Department of Public Health officials said on Tuesday they would monitor patient care, staffing levels and supply levels during the strike. The agency also said it was checking the training of replacement nurses hired by the hospital.

Nurses in Backus say they are paid less than those at other area hospitals, while Backus is one of the state’s most profitable hospitals. They also did not have enough personal protective equipment during the pandemic and had to repeatedly reuse equipment, including N95 masks, said Sherri Dayton, nurse and president of the Backus Federation of Nurses, AFT Local. 5149 in The Associated Press earlier this month.

“You use it until it’s tainted or compromised and they really need to change the policy, you really don’t need to use it for more than eight hours,” she told About N95 masks.

She said in recent months, 11 employees on one floor of Backus were infected with the coronavirus from a patient at a local nursing home, three other employees in the intensive care unit were infected and another worker tested positive after treating an emergency room patient.

“A lot of nurses are scared,” Dayton said, “and the reason is that when they test positive we are blamed by the hospital.”

Southeast Connecticut had a relatively low infection rate during the first months of the pandemic. But in recent weeks, there has been a slight increase in cases. State and local officials, including Governor Ned Lamont, on Monday urged residents of the region to get tested for COVID-19 and to be careful of friends, family and colleagues.

In a rally amid picketing on Tuesday, Democratic Congressman Joe Courtney blamed Backus and Hartford HealthCare management for the contract stalemate, which he called astonishing amid a pandemic, said reported the Norwich Bulletin.

“It makes no sense and the management of this institution has just completely cut their legs off the work that (Lamont) was doing here yesterday,” he told the crowd. “This is the time when we should pull ourselves together.”

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