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Ascension Via Christi St. Francis nurses rally to improve staffing and safety at Wichita hospital

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Registered nurses at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis who joined a union held a rally Wednesday morning as the union began negotiating their first contract. They were joined by some nurses from Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph.

RNs at St. Francis voted to unionize last November. The vote was 378 to 194 to join the National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of National Nurses United.

Several dozen nurses held placards as they walked along St. Francis Street Wednesday. Their messages ranged from “Our burnout has led to this turnout” to “Patients at the expense of profits” to “Lack of staff means delays in care and puts patients’ lives at risk!”

“We show up every day to go to work for our patients,” said Sara Wilson, an RN in the orthopedic trauma unit at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis. “We became nurses to care for our patients, and we’ve been very lean working too long, and it’s about time Ascension listened to us.”

Shelly Rader, RN in the emergency room at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, said the nurses are ready for the negotiating table.

“This is a historic day, not just for us but for our patients, our community, Wichita itself,” she said.

Both nurses say there is a staffing crisis at the hospital.

“We need better staff,” Wilson said. “We need Ascension to improve nurse recruitment and retention, and we need a better violence program for security workers. Nurses are in danger when they go to work and Ascension must take care of their nurses.

Rader said he hopes “they listen to us and realize that we have a voice and that we want to help make the policies and the changes that need to be made.”

KSN News reached out to Ascension Via Christi for their response. A spokesperson sent this statement:

We will negotiate in good faith with NNU the terms and conditions of employment for a limited group of Associate Nurses at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis. Negotiating an employment contract can be a lengthy process and we look forward to starting discussions so NNU-represented employees can have the same access to competitive pay and benefits that we offer our non-unionized employees.”

Roz Hutchinson, communications and public relations, Ascension Via Christi Health Inc.

Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph RNs filed for union representation with the National Labor Relations Board. So also the nurses of St. Joseph attended the rally outside St. Francis.

Whitney Steinike, RN in the adolescent psychiatric unit at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph, said she hoped to hear the results of the petition by the end of the week. She said that if they are successful, the St. Joseph’s nurses will join the St. Francis’ nurses at the negotiating table.

“We are fighting for better standards of care for our patients and the wider community, and we also hope to prioritize patient care and safety in hospitals for patients and nurses,” he said.

Steinike said the unionization of St. Francis RNs made union efforts in St. Joseph easier. She said there was also a lot of community support.

“It’s amazing to know that the community supports us,” he said. “Many people in the community have a family member who is a nurse or a friend who is a nurse. They know what the staffing has been like in the hospitals and the security. So it’s so exciting to have their support.”

A union spokesman said if the St. Joseph RNs are successful, NNOC/NNU will represent nearly 1,000 Wichita-area nurses at the two Ascension facilities.

“NNU nurses nationwide know that a strong contract is a key element of our fight for better patient care, especially when it comes to staffing,” said NNU President Deborah Burger, RN, in a news release. “We are so excited to see nurses organizing and fighting for strong contracts across the country, and Wichita nurses are part of a union committed to taking over corporate health care for the sake of the health of our communities.”

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