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Mount Nittany Health, Union Agree to New Contract

by on October 22, 2020 2:28 PM

After weeks of negotiations, the union representing more than 900 Mount Nittany Medical Center workers agreed to a new three-year contract on Wednesday night.

An "overwhelming majority" of union members voted to ratify the contract, according to SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. The deal includes the reversal of proposed layoffs for about 25 employees.

SEIU represents 37.5% of Mount Nittany Health's 2,400 workers system-wide.

“Our union’s primary goal during these negotiations was always to protect the future of Mount Nittany Medical Center for our community,” Carla Robinson, a registered nurse who has been with Mount Nittany for more than 30 years, said in a statement. “We’re happy to say we were able to work with management to do that and ensure we continue to deliver the five-star level of care we’re known for.”

The contract includes a 5% wage increase over three years, lower health care benefit costs and protections for retirement and paid time off plans.

“The entire care team — from RNs to EVS to lab to nutrition services to radiology and beyond — was united to settle a fair contract that would make sure we could continue to deliver the best care in the region and to protect the future of our hospital,” said environmental services worker Chrissy Thompson. “I think we did that. We’re proud of Mount Nittany Medical Center and the work we do to care for our community. It’s more important than ever in these uncertain times.”

The contract also includes language that protects workers' job security if the hospital were to be sold.

Tom Charles, Mount Nittany Health executive vice president for system development, said on Thursday that there are no plans to sell the nonprofit hospital and there have been no discussions to do so.

"Our most important work is serving our community," Mount Nittany Health CEO Kathleen Rhine said in a statement. "We greatly value all our staff across the health system and their work to keep the community healthy. Our history of providing competitive pay and benefits reflects our appreciation for all that they do. We are focused on supporting our employees during these uncertain economic times and protecting a strong future for Mount Nittany Health.”

In June, the health system announced it planned to eliminate about 250 positions as it faced a $70 million revenue shortfall resulting from significantly lower patient volumes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those patient volumes have continued to be lower even after Mount Nittany resumed more of its services. From July through September, inpatient admissions were down 14%, emergency department visits were down 21% and surgical cases are down about 10% from the same time last year.

"New job opportunities" will be made available to the 25 union workers whose jobs were to be eliminated, according to Mount Nittany. Charles said those are still to be defined, and the aim is for the workers to move back into their departments as positions open up through natural attrition. They will also continue to receive pay and benefits under the terms of their contract.

Mount Nittany also eliminated 50 management positions in May.

As revenue has fallen, Mount Nittany has adjusted its expenses to maintain a positive operating income, Charles said. The system had between $12 million and $13 million in operating income at the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year in July.

"We’re adjusting our expenses to try to keep it in line with that lower revenue number and we’ve been able to do that to a point that we’ve maintained a positive operating income," Charles said. "I would say our financial situation is stable, but we’ve had to do it with managing our expenses because our activity and our revenue has been down... It’s important to be able to continue to do things for the community and therefore it’s important to keep that number positive."

The union's last contract was negotiated in 2016. This is the first to be signed during Rhine's tenure as CEO, which began the following year.

“With the completion of this negotiation process, we and our staff are now able to focus on what we do best—providing excellent patient care, and maintaining our readiness to serve the community in the face of the significant challenges associated with COVID19,” Rhine said. “We are also better positioned to meet future challenges and to adapt to the changing times. We know that our team shares our commitment to maintaining the outstanding quality of care that is our hallmark.”

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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