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LAMC nurses unionize

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By Carol A. Clark

Nurses at Los Alamos Medical Center have voted to unionize. “We’ve won the right to be a part of District 1199NM of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees,” said Beth Spiers, RN BSN, one of the union organizers. “Our goal is quality patient care and improved nurse benefits and retention.”Spiers has practiced nursing for four years and said she moved to Los Alamos a year ago from Atlanta after being recruited by LAMC hiring agents.“We organized in about the middle of last year,” Spiers said. “We started gathering signatures and had our vote on Nov. 13 and 16.”LAMC had some 50 nurses on staff at the time the vote took place, Spiers said, adding that the vote was about 27-to-20 in favor of  unionizing, with three abstentions.Commenting on the election results, LAMC Chief Executive Officer Sandra Podley said in a statement, “While we are disappointed that our RNs selected an outside third-party to represent them, the hospital respects their right to do so and will be sitting down soon to begin negotiations for a union contract for the nurses.”The hospital focuses on improving quality every day, Podley said, adding that toward that effort, she and her staff have worked hard to establish one of the best nurse/patient ratios in the region.  “We believe it is important that we focus on our mission of creating a world-class health care facility for the people of Los Alamos," she said. “The hospital administration is committed to sitting down with the union and bargaining in good faith for a contract that will permit the hospital to continue along that path. In the meantime, the hospital will stay focused on caring for our patients and our community.”Dr. A. Carolyn Linnebur, a cardiologist and internal medicine specialist who serves on LAMC’s Advisory Board, said in a statement that the hospital is fulfilling its mission. “I am pleased with the continued improvement in quality of care at LAMC,” she said. “The new hospitalist program that CEO Ms. Podley introduced in March 2007 has been a great success in its ability to provide not only excellent care but also excellent nursing education.”  Spiers said, “I know the hospital is planning on making improvements and we want to push them for more nurses and new equipment. We aren’t even totally computerized yet and it’s been proven that full computerization makes for better patient care and better patient safety. It all goes back to quality patient care – we wouldn’t have gone into nursing otherwise.”The next step in the process is for the nurses to gather to elect their union officers, Spiers said. “Then we’ll draw up a contract and begin negotiations with the hospital,” she said.LAMC is a “second-generation hospital” with its parent facility having been the old Army hospital on the base of World War II’s Manhattan Project. The current building was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1951 and was advertised as “state of the art” upon its grand opening in January 1952.In 1963, as the federal government continued to “open” the once secret town and divest itself of many community services, an election was held to choose an organization who would assume operations of the hospital. Lutheran Hospitals and Homes Society of Fargo, N.D., won the contest and in January 1964, LHHS founder Fred Knautz purchased the hospital and two adjacent apartment buildings from the Atomic Energy Commission for $1.After that time, LHHS (Lutheran Health Systems - LHS and now Banner Health System - BHS) continued to invest in capital improvements to the building, with the total approaching $20 million. In 2001, Banner announced its intention to focus resources on its network and metropolitan hospitals, and to divest itself of its smaller, free-standing facilities, among them, LAMC. In June 2002, Province Healthcare of Brentwood, TN, became the new owner of LAMC. Province merged with LifePoint Hospitals Inc., in April, 2005, making LAMC now a LifePoint hospital. Like Lutheran, Province was heavily invested in rural health care and took aggressive steps to upgrade many areas of LAMC such as a new emergency room in 2006.The majority of community health care providers, including dentists, were housed in the building until the early ’70s, when all but physicians moved to other locations in town. To this day, most Los Alamos physician practices have their offices on the LAMC campus, with some in the hospital building itself and others in connecting medical office buildings.There have been seven administrators in the last 40 years, including Robert Hill, 1964-1980; Glenn Bryant, 1980-1986; Paul Wilson, 1987-2000, Ray Vara, 2000-2002; Greg Partamian; 2002-2004; Gary Nicholds, 2004-2006; and Sandra Podley, 2006 to present.