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Giant Hospital Chain Fires Nurse Leaders at Forefront of Fight for Safe Care

National Nurses United Press Release, 1/28/14

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40 Watsonville RNs march into CEO to protest Unfair Labor Practices and the firing of fellow RN, Tim Thomas (center facing the camera).

CHS Defies Court Orders to End Illegal Retaliation against RNs in its hospitals nationwide

Just weeks after speaking out at a national press conference about rampant patient safety problems at the nation’s largest hospital chain, two registered nurse leaders were fired this week by Community Health Systems, National Nurses United (NNU) reported today.

CHS is taking these steps despite being already under court orders at three of its hospitals in California and Ohio for retaliatory threats, harassment, and firings of RNs and other violations of other RN rights.

CHS’ Fallbrook, CA. hospital fired Veronica Poss RN, Monday. NNU immediately filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Fallbrook for the termination of Poss.

On Tuesday, CHS’ Watsonville, CA. Community Hospital fired Tim Thomas, longtime leader at that facility. NNU filed unfair labor practice against Watsonville last week for harassment and discrimination against Tim Thomas. Some 40 Watsonville RNs rallied Tuesday, and brought a protest to the door of their hospital CEO.

Poss and Thomas have been the most prominent RN public advocates at their hospitals and in their communities for addressing serious problems with patient safety, and calling on improvements to protect public health. Poss publically admonished CHS in a television interview in December about CHS’s plan to close the cardiac rehabilitation unit, a vital service to the senior residents of the area.    

Earlier this month, Poss and Thomas joined an NNU-sponsored press conference in Naples, FL outside a shareholders meeting of another big for-profit chain, Health Management Associates, where a vote was being taken to accept a buyout by CHS. 

“These disgraceful firings are being carried out in direct retaliation for the public advocacy of these courageous nurses, and in an attempt to silence any nurses who will speak out about rampant patient care problems in their facilities,” said NNU co-president Jean Ross.

“This action is also an unmistakable message of defiance to the courts and the federal labor board that CHS will persist in their harassment and intimidation of nurses, despite federal sanctions, and a somber warning for communities with CHS hospitals that local management is indifferent to nurses’ warnings about patient safety,” Ross said.

"I've been a consistent advocate at Fallbrook Hospital for patient care improvements, safe staffing and RN rights,” Veronica Poss. “It's disgraceful that the CHS’s corporate management has taken such extreme and uncalled for measures against me and other RNs across the system for our efforts on behalf of our patients, our profession, and our community.”

“Many in our community have no idea that our hospital is owned and operated by a for-profit Wall Street corporation, said Tim Thomas, RN. “All across the country nurses like me are losing their careers for speaking on behalf of our patients, and our profession.”  

“I cannot say enough positive things about Tim,” said Renetta Parry, RN. “He is an excellent RN. I’ve worked with Tim more than 20 years in the OR and he was always dedicated to his patients and always a great support to his nurse colleagues. His firing is further evidence that CHS has no regard for patients or the community.”

The firings occurred less than a week after a U.S. District Court Judge delivered a sweeping cease and desist injunction against a CHS hospital in Ohio ordering it to cease and desist its lawless behavior of repeated illegal discipline and harassment of its RNs, and reinstate an illegally fired Ohio RN.  Last week an administrative law judge also found CHS affiliate Greenbrier Valley Medical Center to have violated federal law when it disciplined a nurse in retaliation for his union activity.

Similar orders have been issued by federal courts in the past few months at Fallbrook, and at CHS’ hospital in Barstow, CA.  CHS’s refusal to address nurses’ widespread concerns about patient safety was the driving force that galvanized RNs from the chains hospitals in Ohio, West Virginia, and California to organize and win representation with the NNU in 2012. 

CHS is now the largest hospital chain in the country, controlling 206 hospitals, mostly in rural communities where patients have no other options for hospital care, making small isolated areas like Watsonville vulnerable to low patient safety standards

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