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Healthcare workers for Catholic Health rally for better pay, more staff

Posted at 11:53 PM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 23:53:46-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A sea of red marched up and down Abbot Road on Wednesday, right in front of Mercy Hospital.

Unionized healthcare care workers, mostly nurses, say their contract is set to expire at the end of September, and that they are not close to striking a deal. This rally wasn't a strike, but an informational picket.

"We’re very worried that we may not get a deal done by the expiration date," said Deborah M Hayes, the CWA Upstate New York Area Director.

Nurses say the conditions inside Mercy, St. Joseph's and Kenmore Mercy are deteriorating, and pose safety risks to patients. All of those hospitals belong to Catholic Health

"Our staffing is very, very bad. And as hard as we try, we can't do what we need to do to take care of the patients and keep them safe," said Karen Burchalewski, a registered nurse at Mercy Hospital.

"You want to do the best job you can for your people, take good care of him like their your own family and it hurts when you can't do that," added Kelly Schoenfelder, a registered nurse at Mercy Hospital.

The workers are asking for better pay and better equipment, especially after fighting the pandemic on the front lines.

Catholic Health responding in a statement:

Thanks to strong leadership and the hard work of our entire healthcare team, Catholic Health remains the area leader in quality, patient safety, and overall patient satisfaction as evidenced by the latest CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) Hospital Compare star ratings and independent Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades.

We remain committed to bargaining in good faith with the union to reach contracts that provide our associates with fair, competitive wages and benefits, while allowing our hospitals to continue providing high quality, affordable care to our community. We hope to settle these negotiations with CWA without delays or disputes, just as Catholic Health recently did with SEIU 1199 at our St. Joseph Campus, McAuley Residence and St. Catherine Labouré Health Care Center.

While negotiations continue, we are in the midst of a local and national labor shortage, affecting big and small employers across the country and healthcare providers here in Western New York. We've added additional resources within our recruitment department and our team is working diligently to fill all vacant positions. We participate in numerous job fairs and hiring events, and market our job openings extensively throughout the region and beyond.

The lack of qualified candidates, extended unemployment benefits, and extensive state-mandated leave policies make it difficult to fill vacant positions. Like other area healthcare providers, we continue to hire contracted agency staff to supplement our workforce. Despite these challenges, we continue to recruit and develop qualified candidates, hiring more than 900 new associates since the beginning of the year.

The supply chain has been affected by the global pandemic and we have been working very closely with our suppliers as well as pursuing new supply channels to ensure our staff have the supplies they need.