HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Nurses Association — which represents more than 70 nurses at North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea — is preparing for an informational picket on Saturday.
They’re expressing safety concerns from low staffing levels and frustrating contract negotiations with the hospital’s owners, The Queen’s Health Systems.
"It's not safe. It's just not safe for the patients. It's not safe for the nurses," said Dan Ross, president, Hawaii Nurses Association
Union nurses are also upset about mandatory overtime and unequal pay. Besides being union president, Ross is a nurse at Queen’s on Punchbowl, so the negotiations hit home.
"We became nurses for a reason and it makes it difficult to do your job when you are not given the tools," he said holding back emotions.
The nurses say higher pay would attract and retain more nurses at the rural hospital. The union says Queen's nurses at the Punchbowl and West Oahu hospitals earn $59.63 per hour while North Hawaii nurses get $47.45 which is about 20% less.
The union says Queen's offered a 2% percent raise next year which is the same amount they gave Oahu nurses so that doesn't close the gap.
"We continue our negotiations with HNA. The tone of the meetings remains professional and respectful. We look forward to further discussions as we continue to work towards a settlement. We value our employees as they are the heart of our organization and we appreciate all that they do and how each of them brings our mission to life with every interaction they have with our patients and their loved ones," said Cindy Kamikawa, president, North Hawaii Community Hospital in a statement.
During a 2017 community meeting, Queen's leaders said they invested millions of dollars and were working toward improving services and efficiency. The nurses credit Queen's for several improvements like building a new emergency room, improving medical records and buying new equipment, but say it's come at a cost.
“Most of the nurses, they are to that point where they can’t take it any longer,” said Heather Yost, registered nurse at North Hawaii Community Hospital.