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Registered nurses continue strike against ARH

Registered nurses in Letcher County and elsewhere in Kentucky and West Virginia continued their strike against Appalachian Regional Healthcare this week, more than five days after both sides in the bitter labor dispute announced they were mulling the possibility of an extended “cooling off” period.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin suggested that striking nurses consider returning to their jobs for 90 days under the old contract while negotiations continue when he and a representa- tive of Kentucky Gov.-elect Steve Beshear met with union officials on November 21.

Members of the Kentucky/ West Virginia Nurses Association were considering the offer, according to union spokesman Kim Geveden.

ARH, which owns the hospitals where the nurses are on strike, appreciated Manchin’s “insights” into possible ways to resolve the dispute, spokeswoman Candace Elkins said.

Although no decisions were made, a spokeswoman for Manchin said he and Beshear were optimistic that the talks could lead to a resolution of the strike, now into its eighth week.

“They felt it was a positive meeting,” spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said.

The two sides could meet again this week, but nothing definite has been scheduled, Elkins said.

About 600 of the 750 registered nurses at ARH hospitals have refused to cross the picket line. With seven facilities in eastern Kentucky and two in West Virginia, ARH is the region’s largest hospital system.

The contract rejected by the nurses would have increased insurance premiums for families, eliminated a policy of paying nurses 40 hours of pay for 36 hours of work and reduced holiday pay from double-time to time-and-a-half.

But the striking nurses say the dispute isn’t about salaries. They say staffing levels were spread too thin and mandatory overtime had become the norm.

ARH disputes that, saying federal and state regulators have never found that ARH’s staffing levels adversely affect patient outcomes.

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