Respiratory therapists at Kapiolani hospital say long contract talks hinge on safety concerns

Updated: Jan. 22, 2021 at 5:06 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 50 respiratory therapists at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children have been in contract talks for 16 months.

They say they’re fighting for safer conditions.

The respiratory therapists, represented by the Hawaii Nurses Association, say they work side by side with doctors and nurses at the hospital.

“It’s been a struggle. We are trying to portray to management how essential we are to the health care team,” said respiratory therapist Scott Fisher.

During the pandemic, they say they’ve reused masks and worked on shifts with skeleton crews.

“Throughout this coronavirus pandemic has been given us unsafe staffing conditions. We’ve been resuing PPE and it’s really not safe as well as the patients that we operate with,” said Fisher.

“It would be nice if we could bring that number down from five uses before we can get a brand new mask,” added respiratory therapist Ikaika Stricker.

“It’s scary. Being that COVID is such a big thing right now. It seems like it’s every where,” he said.

Martha Smith, CEO of Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, pushed back at the respiratory therapists’ claims.

“Any suggestion that our PPE practices are unsafe is misleading,” she said.

“In fact, the union has agreed to our PPE and safety measures, as demonstrated by the agreement reached for nurses and recent contract ratification. We know our current PPE practices are effective as we haven’t had any Kapiolani employees test positive for COVID-19 due to an exposure from a patient when these practices have been followed.”

The hospital also says staffing levels have fluctuated as patient numbers have declined during the pandemic.

Kapiolani nurses just ratified their contract, but had previously voted to authorize a strike. The respiratory therapists hope their contract talks don’t reach that point.

“To me it just exemplifies how Kapiolani management has continued to procrastinate that the nurses had to go so far to threaten a strike,” said Stricker.

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