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Kaleida Health and its unions are looking to strengthen health care, staff and finances

Mike Desmond
Kaleida unions goals in bargaining, with member signatures

Kaleida Health and its unions have reached a contract and sent it to the 6,300 members for their final decision.

The two sides now have to deal with troubled finances of Kaleida and the rest of New York State’s health care providers.

1199 SEIU Vice President of the Western New York Hospital Division Jim Scordato said work has been underway for a while, pointing to a recent $25 million for Albany to Kaleida.

“Not only the $25 million that was received but a lot of hard work from our political department, every day working and making calls but then also, hopefully, future money that we are all going to work on together," Scordato said. "Kaleida, the two unions, are going to work on to try to get into the next budget schedule and moving forward.”

Scordato said the public will be hearing about this picture because many are aware of what COVID-19 did to hospitals and health care generally.

“This is a drum that we are going to be pounding in Western New York and Upstate New York," he said. "Funding for our hospitals and our nursing homes in our community are lacking and we are going to continue to work hard to change that and that's where we have to go. It can't be this patchwork kind of operation of health care. The state gives money to the ones that can't make payroll, that the operations are in jeopardy. That type of operation has to stop.”

Both sides know one problem won’t go away: staffing. There just aren’t enough nurses and techs and all of the other people who make a hospital work. Kaleida has 19 different bargaining units across the company.

Communications Workers of America Local 1168 President Cori Gambini said the new pay and benefits and staffing controls should bring people back.

“There's a lot of people that hold their state licenses that are not practicing," she said. "I have a dear friend who is thinking about actually coming back to the hospital and when you talked to her about it a couple years ago, she was like, 'I'm not coming in and taking care of 10 patients. Are you out of your mind?' But, those are the people you might draw back into the workforce.”

There are also the internal promotions with better training. Scordato said that training already exists.

“Being within our contract, the Kaleida contract, we have a training fund, the organizations that we run. That can put members to school," he said. "We have members that were housekeepers that are now nurse-practitioners. They went to school for free.”

Gambini said it’s not just recruiting staffers, it’s also persuading high school students that health care is a good career for them.

"We started a student nurse job where they can come in and do an internship for the summer. And they come in and, hopefully then, they get acquainted with the hospital and they start making friends and say, 'Hey, maybe this is where I want to work when I graduate next year,'" Gambini said.

There is also the psychology of the job, making people feel welcome when working. Charles Williams is a personal care assistant and vice chair of the Buffalo General Hospital bargaining unit.

“The thing that really touched me the most in regards to this contract is the dignity and the respect because we didn't feel like we were being heard," Williams said. "We didn't feel like we were part of this thing. They say we're family. We're all one family but we didn't feel that, we weren't being treated like that and they heard us, they actually heard us.”

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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