Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bergen Regional Workers OK Contract

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bergen Regional Workers OK Contract

Article excerpt

Nearly 500 nurses and other employees approved a three-year contract Friday with the management of Bergen Regional Medical Center that guarantees raises of more than 9 percent over three years and staff input on the hiring of a safety consultant that the hospital was ordered to retain last week.

The negotiations took place as Bergen County officials are weighing the fate of the Paramus facility -- the state's largest hospital. The 19-year-contract between the Bergen County Improvement Authority and Bergen Regional Medical Center LP, the for-profit company that operates the hospital, expires in March 2017.

Bergen County Executive James Tedesco has insisted that any new agreement will place a priority on patient care and provide more oversight of the facility, an issue that will have an effect on regional health care, thousands of patients and county taxpayers for decades.

The 1,000-bed hospital provides psychiatric care, substance- abuse treatment and long-term care for patients who are mostly poor, elderly or uninsured.

Jeffrey Peck, a nurse and president of the local chapter of Health Professionals and Allied Employees, praised the contract as a means to "strengthen protections for workers and patients and plan for a more secure future for our hospital and community."

Under the agreement, which goes into effect Wednesday, workers will receive raises of 6.25 percent over three years with an additional 1 percent annually on the anniversary of an employee's hire date, said Jeanne Otersen, a spokeswoman for HPAE.

The contract also calls for an increase in tuition reimbursements to $4,000 per person annually from $3,600, by the third year of the contract, Otersen said.

'Flexibility' ensured

Bergen Regional's president, Susan Mendelowitz, who also serves as the hospital's administrator and chief operating officer, said the terms of the agreement "ensure that the medical center has flexibility to continue providing the highest quality of care to the community we serve."

Union leaders said they were pleased that staff members will aid in the selection of an outside consultant to "identify and minimize health and safety risks" at the hospital, under the terms of the new pact, Otersen said.

"We have been asking for risk assessment and ongoing training for staff that both the union and the management of the hospital can approve of," she said.

Last week, Tedesco, the county executive, called for sweeping action to address reports of violence at the hospital, including stationing more police at the facility, ordering the hospital to hire an outside consultant to assess safety and to appoint a liaison from his office to the hospital. Tedesco moved the county administrator to the campus of the hospital this week, where his sole responsibility will be to monitor management.

Tedesco was responding to a report published this month in The Record. …

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