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Riverside CEO warns nurses ‘Unionizing would distract us from mission’

Kambic's warning to nurses against unionizing came less than 24-hours after the Kankakee County Health Department reported an area record 245 new COVID-19 cases in a single-day report.

KANKAKEE – Riverside President and CEO Phil Kambic issued a warning to nurses in a letter Tuesday after claims a Union had ‘targeted’ nurses at Riverside Healthcare in an effort to unionize local healthcare workers.

“Unfortunately, today I am writing you to make you aware of another challenge our team is now facing.” Kambic wrote in a statement, dated November 2nd. “It has come to our attention that a labor union – the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) – has targeted our nurses for organizing.” Kambit’s warning came less than 24-hours after the Kankakee County Health Department reported an area record 245 new COVID-19 cases in Kankakee County.

Riverside’s CEO told local nurses the company would provide ‘all the information you need’ to make a decision on the topic in the days to come.  Kambic specifically targeted the Union’s views on the Magnet program.  “NNOC/NNU leaders have called the Magnet program a “marketing gimmick” and as recently as 2019, referred to the Magnet recognition as “bogus credentials.” Kambit wrote.

The CEO’s reference appears to refer to a press release issued by National Nurses United (NNU) in 2019 after an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found a Florida hospital had promoted ‘achieving Magnet designation’ after performing worse in 2017 than any other pediatric heart surgery program in Florida in the past decade. 

“Health care corporations promote Magnet accreditation as desirable because it is supposed to signal to nurses and the public that the hospital is an excellent workplace and provides the highest quality of patient care. But it is hard to reconcile this “recognition” with a Tampa Bay Times investigation that found at least 11 children died following procedures over an 18-month period starting in mid-2016 at All Children’s Heart Institute.” National Nurses United said in that 2019 statement. “NNU has long held that Magnet status is a marketing scheme divorced from the reality of patient care. It is designed to promote a hospital’s appeal to patients and nurses and to shield a hospital from true regulatory scrutiny.”

Magnet recognition is a regular staple of Riverside’s marketing efforts.

“Riverside leaders are not anti-union, and we respect the rights employees have to consider union membership,” Kambic said Monday.  “I respectfully ask that you not sign anything in support of the NNOC/NNU until you understand how your signature might be sued and how having a union like NNOC/NNU here could change our culture and our collaborative work environment.”

Some nurses at Rush Hospital in Chicago also began to look at unionizing earlier this summer.  Riverside Medical Center joined the Rush hospital network in 2014.

A 2011 study showed non-magnet hospitals had better patient outcomes than Magnet hospitals.  According to the study published in JONA, Magnet hospitals held lower staffing numbers and a lower RN skill mixed when compared with non-Magnet hospitals. Another study in 2012 showed on average, Magnet hospitals were larger in bed size and had a higher proportion of teaching facilities and the amount of technology.

Riverside’s organization has faced its own public relations issues this year.  Since the pandemic began, Riverside’s Miller Rehabilitation Center had 22 senior residents die of the virus.  Miller Center closed out of active cases earlier this year after 88 became infected, but reopened active cases after a new string of cases in recent weeks.  In June, the organization reported a total operating loss of $4 million compared to a total income of $5 million for the same period in 2019.  

As of last Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 18 cases of residents positive at Miller.  The site was one of ten Friday reporting active cases at local long-term care facilities in Kankakee County.

No word from Riverside nursing leaders on when or if a vote to Unionize could possibly occur.

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