Nurses Association files charges against Kalispell Regional over layoffs

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The main entrance to Kalispell Regional Medical Center. (Matt Baldwin/Daily Inter Lake)

The Montana Nurses Association filed charges Wednesday against Kalispell Regional Healthcare for allegedly violating federal rights pertaining to Kalispell Regional’s recent announcement of employee restructuring, according to a press release issued late Wednesday by the Montana Nurses Association.

The press release indicated the hospital intends to lay off more than 100 charge nurses. A charge nurse is a registered nurse responsible for the management of a patient-care unit.

“When there’s an illegal unilateral change in working conditions, it results in a violation of the National Labor Relations Act for the purpose of interfering with employee rights to form a nurses union. It appears KRH is trying to sound a warning shot to nurses that they’ll be laid off and not be rehired if they support becoming union,” said Vicky Byrd, RN, executive director of the Montana Nurses Association. “It’s a disappointing move affecting quality care in the community. Running a hospital without charge nurses is highly unusual and goes against the grain of those positions providing good high-quality patient care.”

Over the past 12 months, the association has been in constant communication and actively organizing with many Kalispell Regional nurses interested in forming a nurses union. Their continued goal is, and remains, to create a collective voice in patient care, staffing, and nurse recruitment and retention, Byrd said.

“Nurses are the heart of the health-care system. There is ample evidence that when the voices of staff nurses are included in decision-making, the quality of patient care improves. That’s what these nurses want, to be heard and respected, and allowed the opportunity to help improve the hospital by having a collective union voice in patient care, staffing, and nurse recruitment and retention,” Byrd said.

The Daily Inter Lake has learned that KRH charge nurses and directors recently received notification from hospital administrators that indicated their positions are being eliminated. Those employees will need to reapply and interview for newly created positions and renegotiate their pay. The Inter Lake asked hospital officials to provide further details about the nursing staff changes, but the hospital declined to elaborate.

In September, Kalispell Regional Healthcare Chief Executive Officer and President Pamela Robertson, who has since left her position, issued a memo in which she said she respected the rights of employees to seek outside representation, but emphasized she believed it was the wrong approach.

Kalispell Regional Healthcare announced last week there will be a restructuring of hospital leadership that will include modified titles, roles and responsibilities of an estimated 130 leaders within the organization. Hospital administrators have declined to elaborate on the personnel restructuring, but said some leadership positions in both clinical and non-clinical areas have been redefined, re-titled or eliminated, and new positions have been added.

“We anticipate that most leaders will have opportunities for these new positions within the new structure and will go through a full, thorough and expeditious process to place people appropriately,” KRH spokesperson Mellody Sharpton said in an email to the Daily Inter Lake on Wednesday morning. “As a result, quantifying specific numbers is a challenge, as we cannot speculate as to how many leaders may leave the organization because of this redesign. Our goal is to retain as many of our talented staff as possible.”

The announcement said the hospital anticipates “minimal involuntary departures,” which Sharpton confirmed in an interview last week was not synonymous with layoffs.

The Montana Nurses Association is the recognized leader and advocate for 17,000 registered nurses in Montana.

This story will be updated online as more information becomes available.

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at kgardner@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4439.

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