If Nurses Strike, UVM Medical Center President Asserts Quality Patient Care Will Continue

Jul 11, 2018

Union nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center are hours away from a planned two-day strike. Negotiations are happening this afternoon, but nurses and the hospital administration have so far been unable to reach a contract agreement since they began talks in late March.

UVM Medical Center's President Eileen Whalen spoke to VPR's Henry Epp on Wednesday afternoon. Listen to the interview above and find excerpts from Whalen's responses below.

How the hospital has prepared for the strike:

"The nurses have been talking a potential strike since March, and so we have been preparing for the inevitable — obviously working diligently to avert a strike — but we have been preparing for quite a few months now, obviously ramped up those preparations over the last couple weeks.

"We have engaged with a consulting firm that specializes in this work, and we have moved hundreds of nurses into the city of Burlington. They have been going through a couple of days orientation and training. They will be on the floors if per chance we cannot avert this strike by 7 o'clock tomorrow morning."

More from VPR — UVM Nurses Plan To Strike July 12 And 13 [July 2, 2018]

Safety concerns that union nurses have raised about the use of temporary nurses:

"We're bringing in the contingency nurses who do this for a living. They travel across the country — unfortunately, this is not unique to UVM Medical Center. They provide the high-quality care our patients and families will need. They're highly skilled professionals that specialize in stepping into hospitals in a moment's notice to provide patient care during a work stoppage. ...

"I personally toured through the training site yesterday, met with many of them. They have years and years of experience and are very excited and very anxious to provide that high-quality care that our patients deserve." 

If tomorrow's strike cannot be averted, "we will continue to negotiate with our labor union and come to a fair agreement as soon as possible," UVM Medical Center President Eileen Whalen, pictured here in 2017, told VPR Wednesday.
Credit Jane Lindholm / VPR File

The possibility of avoiding a strike:

"This has been a very unique negotiation. It has not been similar to any we've done in the past. So the one thing I have been very clear about: there's nothing predictable.

"I can only suggest to you that we are absolutely very set on going in with an open mind, trying to be creative, to make sure that we can avert a strike, we can listen diligently to our nurses and try to come to a fair agreement."

Effects on the relationship between the union and hospital:

"The hospital and our nurses, we all will have to take very intentional work to try to heal. We are starting that. We've been trying to do that as we've gone through this process, 'cause this is really hard. These are our friends, these are our nurses, these are our colleagues, these are our neighbors, these are our family members.

"And we respect their right to collective bargaining, and we think that this is a huge opportunity to build trust. So yes, I'm very concerned about that, as is each and every one of my nurses. We'd like to see us come to a fair agreement and move on."

Correction 6:34 p.m. VPR's conversation with Whalen took place Wednesday, not Thursday. This post has been corrected.