The street near Sacred Heart Medical Center was a symphony of horns Monday.
Some drivers laid on their car horns for three blocks solid. Others hit theirs in short bursts. A firetruck honked high and quick, and a truck bellowed low like a foghorn.
The drivers were making noise to support Sacred Heart nurses, who picketed the hospital for about 11 hours Monday.
The more than 1,100 registered nurses at Sacred Heart have been working without a contract since Dec. 31. Negotiations between nurses and administrators stalled earlier this month.
The nurses decided to hold informational picketing, which will continue today, to educate the community and gather support.
Nurses say they’re concerned about patient-safety issues and want input on any changes in staffing levels. They also don’t want to be placed on mandatory call.
The Washington State Nurses Association wants nurses to have mandatory membership in the union. And the union wants a larger pay raise than administrators have offered.
On Monday afternoon, Michael Sorenson still was wearing his blue hospital shirt and white pants from his nursing shift. He had worked in the respiratory and internal medicine unit from 11 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. and then walked outside to picket.
“I believe in what we’re fighting for,” said Sorenson, who has been a registered nurse for almost a year. “I believe in the people we’re caring for. It’s important. It’s their health. I’ll give up a little sleep for that.”
A couple of hundred nurses picketed off and on during the day, many before or after their shifts. They passed out fliers and waved signs such as “No Mandatory Call” and “Nurses Deserve Respect.”
Nurses said they want to avoid a strike but are prepared to walk out over patient-care issues. The nurses would have to give the hospital 10 days’ notice if they plan to strike.
Carol Sheridan, vice president for nursing at Sacred Heart, said administrators hope to start negotiating again with nurses later this week. The federal mediator will decide when to call the sides back together.
Sheridan said hospital management plans to meet as often and as long as necessary to reach a settlement.
She also said the hospital continually monitors patient care.
“Certainly as a nurse manager, I’m concerned about it and maintain we have a high standard of patient care,” Sheridan said.
Nurses standing outside the hospital said staffing levels have been cut to the bottom line. They said they want to be able to spend the necessary time with every patient.
“You have to treat every person like they’re your mom or your grandparents,” said Piper Johnston, a nurse in the cardiac acute care unit.
Most of the picketers were nurses at the hospital. But Teamsters held signs as well, as did at least one patient.
Harold Kelley, 76, said he spent 17 days in Sacred Heart last year after a stomach aneurysm. He held a sign Monday that said, “Rested RN’s are safe RN’s.”
“The doctors might cut you open,” Kelley said. “But the nurses - they save your life. That’s the way I look at it.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo