Nurses to hold vigil today

Unionized registered nurses from UPMC Altoona will hold a candlelight vigil at 4:30 p.m. today outside Fairview United Methodist Church, 2214 Fifth St., to express concerns about progress on their first contract with the organization that now owns the hospital.

“We know management’s proposals will not best serve our patients,” said SEIU Healthcare PA local President Paula Stellabotte in a news release. “We will continue to push back.”

The unionists aren’t prepared to discuss their specific concerns until the vigil, said Vice President Kim Heverly, reached by phone Wednesday evening.

The unionists began negotiating in October with professed optimism, based on their initial relations with management, starting with UPMC’s acquisition of the hospital – previously Altoona Regional Health System – on July 1.

“We should all be on the same page,” Stellabotte said at the beginning of contract talks. “We all have the same goals.”

At the time, the union said those goals included ensuring safe staff ratios, solidifying the role of committees that generate ideas for improving care, fortifying a training and education program and keeping the status quo on benefits.

The unionists professed optimism despite UPMC being largely non-union and despite the union having tried to slow the push to merge with warnings of potential problems – chief among which was the potential that UPMC would limit access to the local hospital for Highmark subscribers, based on the organization’s plan not to renew its contract with Highmark when the deal expires at the end of 2014.

The union continued to express those concerns even though UPMC began in May to assure community members they needn’t worry about local access, because it will make an exception for hospitals like Altoona that are essentially sole community providers.

The union’s current deal expires at the end of the year, and final talks are set for Dec. 30, according to the nurses.

More than 100 nurses and their supporters will demonstrate today, according to the news release.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.