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Nurses at Kenmore Mercy Hospital are upset over the hospital's plan to replace some full-time nurses with part-timers as it eliminates "extended nursing shifts," a longtime practice allowing nurses to work three 11 1/2 -hour shifts a week.

More than 75 nurses, members of Local 1133 of the Communications Workers of America, met Monday night in Olympic Restaurant near the hospital to discuss the policy and explore options.

The hospital issued a statement it said was in response to erroneous news reports that it was laying off nurses.

"In an effort to maximize staffing levels," the hospital said it was eliminating the extended shifts of 30 registered nurses. Those positions will be replaced by 17 full-time (working five 7 1/2 -hour shifts) and 21 part-time positions. So, while there will be more jobs, they will be for fewer hours and the part-time jobs have few fringe benefits.

"They can put any kind of spin on it they want, it's a layoff," said Melissa Mountain, a registered nurse and vice president of the union. "It's probably the first of many layoffs at Kenmore Mercy."

She said she will be forced to look for a new job because the "bumping" rights of more senior employees means she would be reassigned to the second shift, 3-11 p.m.

"I would never see my kids," said the single mother of two. "I'm being forced to choose between my job and my kids."

The bumping situation is also causing stress within the union.

"I have to worry about bumping one of my friends to keep my job," said another nurse, who didn't want her name used. "It's so sad."

Mrs. Mountain said the union and hospital administrators had tentatively agreed on eliminating the extended shifts last week, but then the hospital began notifying employees before the union had a chance to explain it to members. That was in violation of the contract, but the hospital has since stopped the practice, she said. The policy goes into effect Oct. 3.

The hospital statement said the change will not result in fewer nurses on the floors but give it more flexibility and achieve cost savings.

It said many hospitals have moved to eliminate the extended shifts because they are more costly and there is no evidence they "have any significant impact on the quality of patient care or outcome measures."

"Medicare cutbacks . . . and reduced reimbursements from HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) are placing extreme economic pressure on all hospitals to operate more efficiently," it said.

"Kenmore Mercy must work within the constraints of today's health care delivery system and its present reimbursement structure to maintain the highest level of patient care."

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