St Peter's Hospital in Helena (MTN News photo)

HELENA – The nurses at St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena and the administration have struck a contract deal after months of negotiations.

The Montana Nurses Association ratified the proposed contract Monday, August 28, after all 307 nurses at the Helena hospital voted.

“I believe everyone is encouraged, the nurses did overwhelmingly ratify the contract so we’re really excited for both the nurses and the hospital because they will always be dedicated to improving the care here in Helena,” said MNA Executive Director Vicky Byrd, R.N.

These negotiations began in November 2016, ahead of the expiration of the contracts on May 31, 2017. Both sides were at a grid lock after multiple mediation sessions failed to result in an agreement.

Story continues below

One of the major points of contention throughout this process were the wages for nurses as MNA believes they were one of the lowest paid staff for comparable hospitals in Montana. But in this new contract, that changed.

“Their wages were increased so that they can be competition so that we can recruit and retain our nurses which is really important for you and I and those of us who use the hospital in the community,” Byrd said. “It puts them [the nurses] right around the middle range for Montana.”

Other items included in these new, three year contracts include expanded unit councils and increased safety measures. The expanded, more structured unit councils will provide the nurses in each department within the walls of the hospital a voice at the table when it comes to decisions impacting staff and patients.

These unit councils are something new St. Peter’s CEO Wade Johnson believes will benefit everyone.

“It’s really important for us to have lots of the care team members working together and providing the care and giving input for our patients and the nurses are a critical part of that,” explained Johnson. “So what we do on the individual units, the staff members are able to come together and they’re able to discuss things about quality and patient safety and how they can improve processes for our patients. It was important to them and important to us that they have an active seat at that table and can participate in that.”

While this negotiations were ongoing, the community got involved by putting up “I support nurses” signs and writing on their vehicles. This public display of support is something Byrd is extremely grateful for.

“Nurses are the most trusted profession and we give tirelessly and we do what it takes to take care of our patients and when we really needed the community to stand behind them, they did and we’re really proud of our community,” expressed Byrd.

These new contracts will remain in place for three years and Johnson said looking forward, he hopes negotiations go smoother.

“I’d like to see us be able to work through this more quickly, I came into this process a little later, next time I’ll be here, and then continue to talk about those things that matter to them and us as an organization so we can partner to get that done,” Johnson said.