GRAND HAVEN — A new union contract for registered nurses at North Ottawa Community Hospital that provides generous wage increases and flexible scheduling is designed to help the hospital retain and attract staff in the wake of an industrywide nursing shortage.
About 100 members of the Michigan Nurses Association ratified the two-year contract late last month in a near unanimous vote. The RNs will receive a compounded wage increase of 9 percent to 16.5 percent over two years, depending on the tenure with the hospital.
The agreement is consistent with wage packages offered by other hospitals in the region, North Ottawa President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Funk said. The nursing shortage facing hospitals “is probably the most significant issue on the table now” for the industry and the contract reflects the growing competition in the local health-care market for nurses, Funk said.
“We are of the opinion, and the MNA is of the opinion, that in order to retain and recruit, we’ve got to be able to compete, and our contract puts us in a position to do that,” Funk said. “It met their needs and it meets our needs.”
The contract is retroactive to Jan. 1 and runs through Dec. 31, 2002. It provides wage increases of 2 percent to 9 percent the first year, depending on where a nurse falls on the salary schedule, and second-year increases of 7 percent. Nurses who receive less than a 5 percent pay raise in the first year will get a one-time bonus, said Flo Baerren, a labor representative for the MNA.
New to the agreement is a pilot program to cross-train registered nurses. Often nurses are sent home from their shift or told to stay home because of low patient numbers.
Through cross-training, an RN can work in another unit of the hospital that may be short-staffed that day, alleviating mandatory overtime for other nurses in that area.
The pilot program should help to improve working conditions by making registered nurses more versatile and work schedules more flexible, Baerren said. The union plans to seek the implementation of similar pilot programs at other hospitals when their RN contracts come up for renewal, she said.
“It’ll be real interesting to see how it’s implemented” at North Ottawa, Baerren said.
The new contract, Baerren said, was a way for the hospital “to show their appreciation for their long-term staff, and they knew they wanted to retain them.”
North Ottawa will see an additional expense of about $250,000 a year to cover the wage increases, plus an additional amount for benefit changes, Funk said. The hospital will cover the cost with operating efficiencies and new revenue sources, he said.