Minnesota Nurses Push National Agenda

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , May 24, 2010

Schriner's arguments are also compelling, but they're harder to fashion into an easily digestible sound bite. She says full-time nurses average about $79,000 a year plus benefits at the 14 hospitals, which is hardly chump change. She notes that Minnesota hasn't needed strict staffing ratios to score among the best states in the nation when it comes to patient safety, quality outcomes, and efficiencies. "Minnesota is a national leader. We have a reputation for quality patient care and innovative initiatives on patient safety," Schriner says. "For us to go to a national standard, why would we want to do that? We are above the national standards in so many areas already. We want to look to the future."

Technology is another issue.

"The union is asking for the contract to say you cannot introduce any new technology if it is going to reduce staff," Schriner says. "Of course we want to introduce new technology if it's going to benefit patients. Is the deciding factor of whether or not we use technology based on how it affects (full-time employees)?"

Despite their efforts, Twin Cities Hospitals' fight for public opinion will be an uphill slog. The hospitals' message is about economics. The nurses' message is also about economics, but they're calling it patient safety—easily identifiable, succinctly encapsulated, with an immediate emotional connection with the public. Plus, they control all the compelling video.

A hospital executive in a business suit explaining proposed pension reductions as a percentage of overall payroll expenses, or a website detailing contract specifics on "mandatory low need days," "unit closures," and "flex time summer deferral bonuses" cannot compete for the public's heart with video of a uniformed nurse holding a picket sign looking earnestly into a camera and saying she is fighting for you.

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John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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