Norton Sound Health Aides Prepare To Go On Strike

Health Aides in 15 communities across the Norton Sound are set to go on strike Monday if a dispute with hospital administration is not resolved. They say administrators are instituting unfair labor practices and ultimately causing harm to their health, and their ability to care for patients.

The dispute centers on Barbara Collins the director of Village Health Services for Norton Sound Health Corporation.  The community health aid association says that Collins has made employment conditions “intolerable” for aids.  They say 48 aides, nearly 70 percent of the workforce, have resigned or been fired since Collins took the position 18 months ago.

Sharon Johnson is a Community Health Aide in Unalakleet and the president of the Health Aid Association.  Johnson says aides had given administration numerous complaints about Ms. Collins.  They are now calling for her to be fired for the strike to be averted. Johnson says to begin with, Collins is not qualified for the position.

Aides are also asking that the person who hired her, Mary David, the Assistant Vice President for Hospital Services be terminated as well.  Johnson says aides have brought their issues regarding Ms. Collins to hospital administration in the past.

Aides say Collins and Norton Sound Health Corporation leadership have failed to provide for employees following critical incident care, leading to post traumatic stress syndrome among aides, and eventually resignations, self medication, and even suicide. Johnson says it’s become a matter of health for patients and employees.

The proclamation also cites labor practices like requiring aides to take vacation time after working nights and weekends and being called into work during vacation.   And given the high turnover, aides want staff who have been pushed out or resigned to have an opportunity to be rehired.

Hospital administration and the board met this afternoon to discuss the situation.  CEO Deven Parlikar says because it is an internal personal issue, he is not able to comment.

Five days before a possible strike begins, Johnson says she’s gotten the signatures of 43 of 51 health aides from 15 clinics.  Health aides are the only provider in many communities. She says that if the strike goes through, aides will respond to emergencies but will not see regular scheduled patients.

The aides say they are prepared to strike beginning on Monday.

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Ben Matheson is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

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