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Federal Judge Rules MedStar Washington Hospital Center Unlawfully Reduced Nurses’ Health Benefits

National Nurses United Press Release, 7/16/13

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WASHINGTON, DC-- National Nurses United (NNU)  today applauded a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon that MedStar Washington Hospital Center violated its nurses’ collective bargaining agreement when it unlawfully and unilaterally instituted sweeping reductions in the nurses’ health benefits.

The ruling by Judge Leon of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia will require MedStar to reimburse all NNU nurses at Washington Hospital Center for increased deductibles and co-pays that in some cases were triple the out-of-pocket amounts that nurses were required to pay for care. It affects increased paid in calendar year 2012 above and beyond what they should have paid in 2011. Judge Leon issued the on July 10.

 NNU, the nation’s largest union and professional association for registered nurses, had sued MedStar in federal court after the company refused to implement an arbitrator’s 2012 award requiring it to roll back the benefit reductions for nurses employed at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, the Washington, D.C. region’s largest hospital.

 In October of 2011, MedStar officials notified nurse representatives that it would be unilaterally implementing steep increases in nurses’ health insurance co-pays and deductibles.  Additionally, hospital officials began implementing its plan to penalize nurses for seeking care outside of the MedStar Health network, thereby forcing many nurses to sever longstanding relationships with their doctors.

 “As a registered nurse, I believe that I am uniquely qualified to evaluate providers when seeking care for my own family,” said Vanessa Rose-Wilder, RN, a nurse on the surgical intensive care unit at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.   “Unfortunately, MedStar Health has once again disregarded the professional judgment of registered nurses in an attempt to increase profits.

 “As a mother of an 11 year old son with spinal bifida, I have relied on the experts at Children’s National Medical Center for his care since birth. Due to increased costs caused by MedStar’s unilateral change in my health benefits, I have had to delay an important surgery for my son.  I am happy to report that this ruling will assure that my son gets care by the experts,” said Rose-Wilder.

“This ruling is vindication for the 1,850 NNU nurses at MedStar Washington Hospital Center who stood together to protect our ability to make decisions about our own health care,” added Stephen Frum, RN, a nurse on the burn/surgical intensive care unit and the NNU’s chief nurse representative.

“Because we have a strong union, we were able to stop MedStar’s attempt to unilaterally change the terms and conditions of our employment.  Unfortunately, the hospital wasted tens of thousands of dollars in these legal proceedings that should have gone for patient care, when it could have simply respected the rights of its bedside caregivers from the beginning,” Frum said.  “If MedStar wants to confront the significant nurse turnover rate at Washington Hospital Center, it should start with respecting its contractual commitments to the nurses.”

Nurses are awaiting a second arbitration decision that stems from even more drastic reductions in health benefits for 2013 when the employer created a new employee health plan that effectively prohibits nurses from seeking care outside the MedStar system. Few employees have enrolled in this plan due to the severe limitations of the provider network.

NNU represents 185,000 RNs across the United States, including 4,000 RNs in the District of Columbia, together with its affiliate, the DC Nurses Association.

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