By Donna Rovins, The Mercury
Pottstown >> About 30 nurses from Pottstown Memorial Medical Center held a rally Wednesday morning to urge Reading Health System to commit to patient care and maintaining the nurses’ current benefit standards.
The nurses gathered on the corner of High Street and Armand Hammer Boulevard, holding signs, a banner urging the hospital to “Put Patients Ahead of Profits,” and a petition signed by many of the 320 registered nurses at PMMC.
Reading Health System, which owns the Reading Hospital in West Reading, announced in May that it would be acquiring PMMC from Community Health Systems Inc. of Franklin, Tenn., which has owned the hospital since 2003.
Four additional Community Health Systems hospitals in the region are part of the deal: Phoenixville Hospital, Brandywine Hospital in Caln Township, Chestnut Hill Hospital in Philadelphia and Jennersville Regional Hospital in Penn Township in southern Chester County.
The PMMC nurses, who are members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals — want Reading Health System to sit down with the union prior to the completion of the acquisition to discuss its plans for the hospital.
“No one from Reading Health has come to talk to us. We just want to make ourselves known. We are here and we’re not going away. And the things we’re working toward aren’t going to change,” said Bernie Moser, a Registered Nurse in PMMC’s maternity department.
The nurses at PMMC voted in September 2016 to unionize under the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals — voting 189-129 in favor of the move. The organization is a coalition of organizing unions representing nurses in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania.
At the time, the nurses cited several concerns including: under-staffing, broken equipment, inadequate training and below market wages and employee health insurance. On Wednesday the nurses that spoke at the rally reiterated their concerns about staffing issues and patient safety and also criticized Community Health Systems.
The union had not yet finalized its first contact with Community Health Systems prior to the announcement of the acquisition.
“Our elected nurse negotiating committee has worked tirelessly over the past five months to win a fair first contract with CHS,” said Lori Domin, who has worked as a Registered Nurse at PMMC for 30 years. “The community has already negotiated many aspects of the contract and expects Reading to agree to those points already agreed upon.”
Bill Cruice, executive director of Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, estimated that about 70 percent of the contract had been completed prior to the May 29 announcement. Since then, all negotiation with Community Health Systems has stopped, according to Bernie Moser, an RN in PMMC’s maternity department and member of the negotiating committee.
“The reason we’re out here today is because we’re reaching a hand of friendship to the Reading Health System to sit down in good faith to conclude negotiating this contract. Because at the end of the day, all of the nurses in the hospital are so deeply concerned about the patients of this community,” said Cruice.
Reading Health system cannot enter into formal negotiations until the transaction is completed, according to Andrew Gaffney, staff representative for Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.
“However, they can sit down and talk about their plans for the hospital, which is what we want Reading to do here,” he said.
The nurses expressed optimism about the pending purchase by Reading Health System, which intends to change its name to Tower Health later this summer to reflect its new regional structure.
“We are excited about this new journey with Tower Health,” Moser added. “We look forward to meeting and negotiating our first contract with Reading and most importantly we hope to see this community hospital returned to the community.”
In addition to representatives from the state organization, Pottstown Borough Council President Dan Weand also attended the rally. He said he had come to the rally, “to listen and learn” about the issues.
A spokeswoman for PMMC was unavailable for comment Wednesday. A spokeswoman for Reading Health System declined to comment.
According to the original announcement, Reading Health System expects the transaction to close this summer, subject to regulatory approvals and closing conditions. Until the deal is complete, current ownership remains in place. No purchase price was revealed.
Community Health Systems acquired PMMC in 2003 for $80 million when PMMC transitioned from a community hospital.