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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 21, 2002

Both sides of strike adjusting, coping

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Striking nurses and management at three O'ahu hospitals said yesterday they are both surviving better than expected as the 3-week-old walkout heads into the Christmas holidays.

Nurses, trying to raise their own spirits and public support with a march and rally yesterday, said they'll get through the season with the help of family and a resolve that their cause is right.

Hospital officials at The Queen's, Kuakini, and St. Francis medical centers, and nurses who are still working there, say they too will survive the holidays doing what they do best: caring for patients. The strike, they say, has helped them identify new, more efficient ways of doing things.

"Christmas gifts are on hold for now," said Todd Terada, a nurse in the intensive care unit at St. Francis Medical Center attending a rally for nurses at Thomas Square park yesterday. Terada's wife Kara, a nurse at Queen's, also is on strike.

"With no jobs, we've cut down on spending, eat at home a lot, postponed a vacation and rely on family support," said Terada, clutching his 7-month-old daughter Kristin to his chest.

Others among the nearly 1,400 striking nurses also have cut back on Christmas and non-necessary buying, but said they are probably better off than other workers would be in a similar strike.

The nurses have job opportunities at other hospitals throughout the state and can take advantage, if needed, of no-interest loans offered through the Hawai'i Nurses' Association, which represents them in the strike.

"There's been a lot of emotional ups and downs, back and forth," said Lori Eller, a nurse at Queen's. "But that's what it's like when we're working, too. Nurses know how to adjust and cope."

Eller, who just got married in August, said she has found work in her mother's restaurant, Karen's Kitchen, and in the Army Reserve. "It's so sad. I was born and raised here and always wanted to work at Queen's, but now I'm thinking about going away to look for a job in San Francisco."

The strike also has taken an emotional toll on those who are still working.

"I'm not going to lie. It's hard to see my nurses out there, especially at Christmas," said Darlene Chadwick, managing director for diagnostic and treatment services at Kuakini who has been working 12-hour shifts, five days a week since the strike began.

She has had to balance the long work days with taking care of her 16-year-old daughter, going to school full-time as she pursues a master's degree in nursing, and taking care of a household in which her husband, an Air Force engineer, is often out of town.

That hasn't been much time left over for Christmas planning. "Let's just say everybody is getting gift certificates this year," she said.

Kuakini spokeswoman Donda Spiker said the staff has pulled together during the strike and found new ways to do some tasks more efficiently.

"We found areas where we can work faster, better, smarter, in some cases, surprisingly, with fewer people," she said. "At first there was a period of adjustment to the changes, but we feel our new effort can really make our healthcare team a lot stronger in the long run."

The hospital has put some projects on hold, consolidated some units and closed down some areas, including a fifth-floor nursing area, forcing temporary reductions in staff. Some staff members have been asked to take an extra day off each week. Some workers in non-essential positions have been forced to use their vacation; others have had all vacations canceled for the duration of the strike.

"There's no doubt it's financially impacted some people," Spiker said. "They're hurting." The hospital is now trying to find ways to help, keeping some workers employed by moving them to new jobs or creating new projects, such as painting the fifth floor while it is closed.

At St. Francis there have been similar adjustments, said Kelly Kindel, a transplant coordinator who has returned to working as a floor nurse during the strike.

"We've certainly had to adjust to different schedules and doing different things, but surprisingly it's been OK," Kindel said. "Some of the nurses who haven't worked the floor in a while might be learning new tricks, but they are bringing new eyes and a new focus to the old way of doing things. Maybe we'll end up doing things better."

Both sides said seeing friends on the other side of the picket line has been difficult.

"It's a little sad," Kindel said. "They have families, mortgages. Christmas is coming and it must be hard. But they're doing what's important to them."

Carey Brown, employee assistance program coordinator for Straub Clinic & Hospital, said such feelings are normal in strike situations and other times of stress.

"People obviously have to be resilient, whichever side they are on. They have to know their values and hold onto them," Brown said.

Strikes by nature offer a chance to come together around those values, she said. "There's a group cohesiveness that develops among the strikers as well as those who are still working. Each camp has its own support system to fall back on."

Although nurses and managers seem to be coping well so far, that may change if the strike drags on past New Year's, Brown said.

"Three weeks is a long time, but problems can still show up emotionally, physically, mentally. Maybe it hasn't reached critical mass yet," she said.