Updated March 24 at 9:30 p.m.
District 1199NM, New Mexico's hospital worker's union, filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Holy Cross Medical Center on March 20 after hospital administrators said they would not engage in negotations during the COVID-19 outbreak.
"The complaint was filed because we believe that Holy Cross Hospital is in violation of the National Labor Relations Act by refusing to bargain over the impact of the Coronavirus on the workers at Holy Cross Hospital," said Eleanor Chavez, the union's executive director.
In the complaint, the union argues that the hospital's outpatient staff is being stretched too thin and should be given hazard pay in light of the inherent dangers of working in the midst of a pandemic. It claims the staff now bears sole responsibility for the hospital's emergency room department and is required to constantly be on-call. It also makes the general assertion that staff has received "inadequate training."
In an update Tuesday evening (March 24), Holy Cross Chief Executive Officer Bill Patten wrote that the complaint had been filed with the National Labor Relations Board after he declined to discuss the union's demands.
"For the last few weeks, the 1199NM union state leadership has repeatedly demanded that we enter into negotations with them regarding the coronavirus response," Patten wrote. "The topics they want to discuss include topics like [personal protective equipment] issues, our staffing models, and administrative leave policy, topics that are exclusively within the management rights clause of our negotiated collective bargaining agreement."
Chavez said that Holy Cross is the only hospital out of the five it represents in the state that has "refused to meet and discuss how to best protect workers."
"As a Union, it is our responsibility to safeguard the health and safety of Holy Cross Hospital employees, especially during this pandemic," Chavez said.
Like other hospitals throughout the country, Holy Cross began preparing early this year in case the virus spread to the community it serves. As New Mexico and Taos County confirmed its first cases of COVID-19 earlier this month, the hospital has adapted to respond. As of Tuesday evening, the total number of cases in New Mexico had reached 100, with the state counting three in Taos County.
Patten submitted a detailed accounting of the hospital's personal protective equipment inventory to the Taos News Tuesday morning, which indicates that nurses are equipped to handle the hospital's current patient volume. While that number has risen since New Mexico confirmed the virus was spreading throughout the state, Patten said this weeks volume is actually lower than last.
So far, staff at Holy Cross has gathered and submitted 125 tests for the virus, but has only received 57 results. While none of the three people who tested positive have been admitted for inpatient care, Patten said on Tuesday that there is one person at the hospital who is being treated for a suspected case of COVID-19, but that person's test results have not yet been confirmed.
Whether Taos County will see its number of cases rise to a level that exceeds its current capacity remains a critical question.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a new order this week requiring "non-essential" businesses and non profits to close down and for New Mexicans to practice social-distancing and self-isolation. She expressed concern, however, that if state residents don't heed her order, the rate of infection in the state could reach a dangerous level, as has been seen in other parts of the world as the virus has spread at an alarming rate.
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