NIH caregivers organizing a union

By Deb Murphy

Caregivers at Northern Inyo Hospital are organizing a union “to maintain the care and safety of patients and retain experienced staff” according to a press release sent out Sunday.

Tthe NIH Union Organizing Committee   Members are (l to r) Susan Tonelli (ER), Heleen Welvaart (Med Surg), Denise Morrill (ER), Betty Wagoner (RHC), Anneke Bishop (OB), Kathleen Schneider (Med Surg), Christine Hanley (Med Surg), Maura Richman (OB), Cynthia McCarthy (ICU), and Laurie Archer (PACU).  Not present: Gloria Phillips (PACU), and Eva Judson (OB). - Photo submitted

Tthe NIH Union Organizing Committee Members are (l to r) Susan Tonelli (ER), Heleen Welvaart (Med Surg), Denise Morrill (ER), Betty Wagoner (RHC), Anneke Bishop (OB), Kathleen Schneider (Med Surg), Christine Hanley (Med Surg), Maura Richman (OB), Cynthia McCarthy (ICU), and Laurie Archer (PACU). Not present: Gloria Phillips (PACU), and Eva Judson (OB). – Photo submitted

The union, part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will include registered nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at the hospital.

The release cites the pressure under which staff is currently working. “Patient care needs and documentation requirements are increasing without an increase in time allowed to provide care,” the release states. According to information from the union organizing committee, the hospital has lost experienced staff due to the “policy of terminating employees whose medical treatment extends past 16 weeks and lack of scheduling flexibility to maintain a balance between work and family. “Caregivers are wondering if they will have the financial stability to remain in this area where they have homes and families,” the release states.

The committee acknowledg that CEO Victoria Alexander-Lane’s efforts to deal with financial issues at NIH have merit, but stress that Lane has not had enough input from caregivers “who will be on the front line implementing changes in delivering patient care.”

Other goals outlined in the release include nurturing new nurses in a safe culture, involvement in NIH’s financial stability and supporting other employees at the hospital. According to the release, NIH is the last major employer in the county without a union.


Following is the complete press release

Registered Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, and Physician Assistants at Northern Inyo Hospital are organizing a union as part of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

We are doing this to maintain the care and safety of our patients, to retain experienced staff and nurture new nurses in a safe culture, to be involved in NIH’s financial stability, and to support the other employees at the hospital who are part of our team. Northern Inyo Hospital is a community hospital with a history of great patient care.

We frequently hear from patients, “I never get this level of care and attention down south.” We provide safe care with a low rate of infection and adverse events. It is an entire team of workers who provide this care, from the person that greets you at the front desk to the doctor making a life-saving diagnosis. That team is under great pressure. Patient care needs and documentation requirements are increasing without an increase in time allowed to provide care.

Having the time to hold the hand of a dying patient, to comfort a sick child, or to help a mother bring a baby safely into the world, cannot be measured in a cost/benefit ratio. We have lost experienced caregivers because of the policy of terminating employees whose treatment for a major medical diagnosis like cancer extends beyond 16 weeks.

Nurses have left because they were not allowed the scheduling flexibility to maintain a balance between work and family. Caregivers are wondering if they will have the financial stability to remain in this area where they have homes and families. For the past decade financial pressures have been tightening on the hospital. Friends tell us they go elsewhere for care because of the cost locally.

Our current administration is addressing our financial future in a proactive manner, increasing patient census, and cutting the cost of procedures and lab work. CEO Victoria Alexander-Lane’s proposals for a strategic plan have merit, but she has not had enough input from the caregivers who will be on the front line implementing changes in delivering patient care.

The decision to form a union was not an easy one. Northern Inyo Hospital is the last major employer in the county without a union to provide a voice for employees. We will be negotiating, not for special treatment for union members, but for fair treatment for everyone, with a guiding principle of maintaining excellent and safe care of patients.


38 Responses to NIH caregivers organizing a union

  1. concerned town February 9, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

    The central issue is the hospital is not being lead in a good direction. If employees work in fear, yes they are fearful for their livelihood, then something is wrong. I know nurses, employees and patients that are all saying the same thing. The quality of care is suffering because morale is low. The CEO is new, this is NOT the way to run a hospital filled with dedicated employees that have been there for years. That’s management 101, poor morale equals poor production, decreased efficiency and it’s the town that suffers. It is the duty of the Board to address this issue OPENLY, the CEO needs to address dress this to the public and fix the problem she and rest of management has caused. If not then the Board needs to ask for resignation. If the Board does not do something effective, I don’t see them being reelected and not should they. The nurses work too hard to have to deal with a bully trying to pad her resume and then move on leaving us to deal with her wreckage and a hospital in shambles. To the CEO and the Board, be part of the solution and stop being part of the problem. Our town deserves leaders in health care to foster an environment that is appealing to talented hard working staff. If you can’t do this, pack up and move out of the valley, you are not welcome here.

  2. baRNone February 5, 2015 at 9:58 pm #

    NIH staff morale is at an all-time low. There are more open positions than ever before, and not because they’re creating new jobs. The CEO displays no regard for staff well-being or the quality of life we value in our town. She is belittling to staff and her actions send the message that any employee is easily replaced. The community needs to be aware of what’s going on as it filters down to patient care. We pride ourselves in offering world-class care; can you imagine how it would change if the people you love were being cared for by people you didn’t know? Union or not, something’s gotta change.

  3. Bob Todd February 5, 2015 at 9:12 pm #

    To our valued website visitors:

    I have not published several anonymous comments that I thought were personal attacks, as opposed to general opinions – and I know that’s a fine line.

    Those comments that may be construed as personal were published under what I believed to be a real name, while the other comments were not published.

    Please, no name-calling, keep it civil and that way we can have an open dialogue on these important subjects.

    Thank you,

    Bob Todd

  4. thank you February 5, 2015 at 7:01 pm #

    Thank you to the NIH nursing staff for getting this conversation started. I hope this will force the board of directors to start asking questions.

  5. JollyGreak February 5, 2015 at 10:45 am #

    The nurses forming a union is a manifestation of staff distress and an effort to resist unfair and arbitrary administrative actions. Administration has disparaged almost everyone with inappropriate commentary and lies. The administration has lost credibility in just 10 months and is feared but not trusted or respected.

    • JollyGreak February 5, 2015 at 11:15 am #

      Above comment taken from knowledgeable pier who choses to be anonymous.

  6. Keoni February 5, 2015 at 9:52 am #

    You do not want a nurse that is afraid to advocate, afraid to do extra work, for fear of being punished, and afraid to take decisive action for fear of discipline to work on you or your loved one. Their minds are no longer solely on caring for you.
    The upper management has run amuck, giving themselves raises without results, one of whom even has a felony conviction.
    The hospital used to be wonderful, it is now intolerable for most employees. Middle managers are leaving meetings confused as to direction and even breaking down. The board needs to wake up and realize that the nurses are the heart of the hospital and not some greedy CEO type who knows nothing about our area and is certainly not welcome in it now. As to the over paid felon, he should be fired outright on the grounds of negligent retention.

    • JollyGreak February 5, 2015 at 11:22 am #

      Yea!! Incredibly pointed and honest.

  7. Rick O'Brien February 4, 2015 at 11:37 pm #

    An honest mechanic AND plumber are well worth what they charge…the trouble is, (finding) one.

  8. Mary Richardson February 4, 2015 at 8:19 pm #

    It is interesting (to me) that many of the negative comments seem to be based on the misconception that the nurses are focused on their salaries/pay checks, and not on the issues they have actually raised: professional working conditions; adequate time to carry out essential assigned tasks in both patient care and the meticulous recordkeeping required in competent patient care; adequate sick leave to recover from their own serious illnesses (e.g., cancer) in order to resume essential assigned tasks in patient care, etc.

    These are not frivolous issues raised by selfish employees concerned with their paychecks. They are directly related to the nurses’ professionalism and their strong commitment to first-class patient care. It seems obvious that the nurses are asking to be heard because the issues they have raised are directly related to a strong personal commitment to restoring the patients under their care to good health. Clearly, they don’t believe they have been heard or heeded by the hospital’s current management–and that is truly regrettable.

  9. nurs February 4, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

    I would also like to admit that my plumber and mechanic here in Bishop make double what I make per hour — but I sure do appreciate their services in an emergency!

  10. nurs February 4, 2015 at 3:10 pm #

    Historically, nursing unions have been about money, but this issue isn’t about money. It is about patient safety and morale. The most polarized comments come from people whose basic opinion is — they should be happy, they make a lot of money. That is not the issue. In fact, management shares this opinion too. But since this new management team has shown up (temp agency CNO, CEO and the new people she hired to surround her) there’s been
    new staffing rules for nurses that never existed before. For example, there is a policy that if a nurse is called off due to low census, she will be required to come in on her days off.
    Nurses are required to float to positions they are not trained for. How would you like it if your laboring wife has a nurse that has never, ever worked in obstetrics? This practice was even been officially investigated by the state, due to a patient complaint. And the management has changed people’s job description without even their consent. One day you are a nurse taking care of patients, the next day management thinks you would be better working behind a desk. Or radically changing working hours — now we are going to 10 hour shifts, or set schedules, or limited vacation times, etc. etc., without any employee feedback whatsoever. This is the problem here –too many radical changes without any employee feedback. It used to be that middle management was able to discuss upcoming new policies with staff, now policies are just passed by executive management without any discussion. Nurses have no representation whatsoever.

    • Keoni February 5, 2015 at 9:59 am #

      Most of this stuff is just to cause attrition. The environment is poisonous.

    • JollyGreak February 5, 2015 at 10:50 am #

      Right on “nurs”-you tell it like it is.

  11. Jack T. February 4, 2015 at 12:31 pm #

    Yes, this is not about pay but since we’re on the subject I’d like to point out that for a small town, having a decent number of well-paid people including DWP, Edison, NIH etc, helps people like me who builds their homes, fixes their electrical or plumbing, repairs their car, or prepares them a meal at one of our restaurants.

  12. Terry February 4, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    Where is the board of directors on all of this?? They seem very quite. Seems like the CEO has them bound and gagged.

    • JollyGreak February 5, 2015 at 11:24 am #

      Good one!!

  13. Ben Holgate February 4, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    I have seen extensive research on the inefficiencies of our healthcare system. The predominance of information available shows its primary failings to be inconsistent oversight and lack of regulation which has lead to over-prescription of drugs and radical invasive procedures coupled with completely insane billing practices. This is at the behest of the pharmaceutical and insurance lobby.

    We are very lucky to have nursing professionals at NIH advocating for quality patient care, they are truly our greatest ally within a failed system.

  14. Jane February 4, 2015 at 7:44 am #

    I’d suggest people go back and read the statement again, because you are missing the central issue. Nurses have a duty to their patients, as well as a legal duty to their license, to be strong patient advocates. Being a strong advocate means feeling safe, and even supported, when you speak up about a patient care or safety issue. Nurses are expressing that the environment that’s been created at NIH recently does not support empowered advocacy by frontline caregivers. This should be a red flag for everyone in the hospital district. While these Nurses are expressing support for financial prudence at NIH, checks and balances against financially driven decisions are certainly more important in patient care than any other industry. This is the main reason health care workers organize unions.

  15. patient February 4, 2015 at 7:31 am #

    This has nothing at all to do with pay. This is about respect, about protecting all hospital workers’ rights, about having some recourse to deal with the increasing harassment and intimidation on the part of an overpaid and incompetent administration. Every other public employer in the county is unionized, so why not our healthcare providers. I am a proud union member myself and I know what a worthy struggle this is. So I commend them for their courage in organizing, for their dedication to their profession and for the excellent care we patients receive. Congratulations to NIH nursing staff!!

  16. tbone February 3, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

    So, would anyone complaining that NIH staff is overworked and underpaid care to provide us with some actual examples. I personally know several nurses who make close to 100k a year, which, for the amount of education required, seems excessive. Again, chime in if I’m wrong here. The staff at NIH are perhaps some of the best compensated in the county.

    So now they’re going to unionize and leverage even more out of a hospital that isn’t exactly known it’s stellar care?

    • Joe February 4, 2015 at 7:46 am #

      tbone- Pay rates for nurses and other health care providers vary across the nation as a result of cost of living and demand. The cost of living is among the highest in CA. In order to recruit and retain qualified staff, hospitals need to offer competitive benefits. The cost of hiring temporary workers is very high and NIH has those too because they have had shortages. Attracting doctors to the area has been difficult as well. Basically wages are governed like commodity prices… supply and demand.

    • Notbuyinit February 5, 2015 at 11:15 pm #

      The nurses at NIH are spoiled. I challenge anyone to find another facility that offers a 25% differential to work the night shift AND provides free meals. ( yes, 25%) Find one that offers “zero pay” so staff can still accrue benefits when called off due to a low census. The nursing staff is bent out of shape because they are being held accountable and they don’t like it. Before you condemn the new CEO and CNO ask about the nursing staff’s compliance with regulations that are required by the government. Ask about the financial health of NIH when the new CEO was appointed. How about the near closure of NIH 2 summers ago by Medicare? Ask the right questions…. You might be surprised by what you find.

      • thankyou February 6, 2015 at 7:12 am #

        I’m not sure anyone gets free meals, sounds like you better do some fact checking.

        And again, I don’t believe benefits or pay are the issue, it’s the crooked management practices that is causing fear in the community. IN THE COMMUNITY. Not just among the “spoiled” nurses.

      • saneinfw February 6, 2015 at 8:45 am #


        It sounds like you know a lot about the salary and working conditions for the nurses at NIH.

        Before we ask about the nurses’ government compliance, let’s also ask about other NIH departments’ adherence to lawful government standards.

        Before we condemn anyone for the financial health of NIH, let’s look at the beautiful new state-of-the-art hospital that the citizens of the hospital district agreed to build for the Eastern Sierra.

        Anyone reading this- Let’s do exactly what Notbuyinit is suggesting- ASK. Ask if the hospital that your taxes built is compliant. Do an Internet search for NIH salaries.

        “People you know caring for people you love” was the NIH slogan. Instead of fighting with each other, let’s figure out why there is so much animosity at NIH. It would be a shame if that fancy new hospital we invested in was shut down.

        NIH Board Members

        MC Hubbard-760 872 2272
        Denise Haydon-760 873 3901
        Dr. Scott Clark- 760 872 2244
        Pete Wattercott- 760 873 4616
        Dr. John Ungersma- 760 873 6034

        NIH Board Minutes

  17. Reality Check February 3, 2015 at 2:42 pm #

    It will be interesting to see what labor negotiations achieve for these unionized workers. Most would consider NIH a Cadillac employer in terms of benefits. I know of many young nurses who would do anything to get hired at NIH.

    CA state law mandates 12 weeks for medical leave while NIH offers 16. I’m not sure what world these employees think they live in, but I can’t think of any business that would prosper if it had to pay employees for over 4 months of medical leave. Also, employees on extended leave cannot be replaced even temporarily in an economical fashion, leaving the employer strained financially and short staffed. Even LADWP would put employees on disability past this time frame. While in many cases extended medical leave is associated with sad or unfortunate circumstances, NIH still has to be able to sustain itself financially in order to provide care.

  18. Ickity February 3, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

    Truly-I do know what I am talking about. A salary survey was done years ago at NIH and the nurses at NIH are very well compensated for their skills. This will end up costing the public more and the union will give the nurses a pay increase.

    • ilovebishop February 4, 2015 at 6:02 am #

      I believe the nurses at NIH are paid about what they are worth. they have a lot of responsibility. It is the extremely over paid upper management that should be causing concern. While all of the other employees have had their pay practically frozen, the new CEO has been given a raise for the outstanding job she has done of taking away benefits and pay, bullying, terrorizing and emotionally abusing the employees. Never mind the person mentioned above that lost his pharmacy license (for stealing drugs & hiding evidence) that makes the same as 3 nurses combined! Way to save money, take it from the people on the front lines and give it to those that havent earned it. Isnt this the type of behavior that got NIH in a financial mess in the first place? The board of directors really should be ashamed of themselves.

    • JollyGreak February 4, 2015 at 10:40 am #

      Nurse salaries are not a point of contention so you do not know what is wished for here in making the union move. It is about having a democratic environment instead of the communist methods that are being used now.

    • Charles O. Jones February 4, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

      Maybe things have changed since the time of an alleged survey done “years ago”.

      I have a couple of family members who work in nursing and they would disagree with your contention that NIH nurses are overpaid. In fact they would consider moving to the Eastside but couldn’t afford the pay cut from what they make in the city.

      Did you ever ask yourself why a local radio station frequently broadcasts the list of open nursing positions at NIH? if they were so overpaid, nurses from other areas would be coming here and filling these positions. Obviously they’re not because I’ve been hearing similar radio spots for as long as I can remember.

      If competitive compensation and good working conditions do not exist, it becomes difficult to attract and retain good employees. This is especially true in the competitive field of recruiting nurses.

  19. John Barton February 3, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

    The board of directors of NIH has let everyone down in the community by giving the CEO and other “upper management” basically untethered run of the mill access to do what she wishes. Bullying tactics are working because things are going the way of the CEO and not for patient care. Just a fact to point out to is one of the other “key” management figures lost his pharmacy license in Oregon and had to pay fines and serve community service time…. and he’s in management at NIH!! Changes can be made incrementally over time with input and sound reasoning, not what is occurring now at NIH.

  20. Local February 3, 2015 at 10:42 am #

    Good for them! These underpaid nurses have a tough job that they do well!

  21. Pat Rowbottom February 3, 2015 at 9:11 am #

    “Heartless” never works in Bishop. How many administrators have I seen come and go when they had the attitude they would “change” Bishop ? This action demonstrates there is a morale problem, for sure. The Hospital Board needs to stand up for these workers.

  22. Ickity February 2, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

    Prepare for overpaid nurses to make even money and our only healthcare to go up as well.

    • Dr. Mike Dostrow February 3, 2015 at 11:40 am #

      Healthcare costs are outrageous because lobbyists bribe our crooked lawmakers to allow pharmacy, med tech and insurance companies to charge ludicrous amounts and enjoy astronomical profit margins. The people taking care of misinformed people like you actually make very little in comparison. They are, in fact, underpaid and overworked and this hospitals case, bullied and harassed. What do you pay your plumber to unclog your toilet? Have a clue before you disparage those who take care of your real problems!

    • Trouble February 3, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

      Thank you Doctor!

    • JollyGreak February 4, 2015 at 10:36 am #

      It is not about the money. It is about staff having a voice, instead of being discounted. It is about nurses being involved in designing a staffing system that will allow the best care possible for patients. And it is about so much more…

    • Mildred February 5, 2015 at 8:10 am #

      This is what I think…..What is unfortunate is that the nurses couldn’t come to the table to begin with. To feel that they had to form a union takes time and effort. It doesn’t happen overnight. Administration had to know this was going on. Did admin even try to communicate? Or did admin just proceed with making new policy without ample “frontline workers” consideration or input. Looking into the future, this will cost the hospital dearly. Strikes are costly to both parties. Calculated costs could be hiring temporary workers, over-time pay for the nurses not striking, ATTORNEY COSTS and ATTORNEY COSTS AND ATTORNEY COSTS, patients going elsewhere and putting a bunch of nurses up in hotels isn’t free. Uncalculated costs can be huge. Like getting a bad reputation. Some of the nurses in this town have been here a long time. They already have a coalition. So all their family and friends will get care elsewhere. This is a big deal! The board should investigate and give this community an update. This is serious stuff! Did I mention attorney costs?


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