🔺 Talks have broken off between nurses and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

🔺The union has set a strike deadline of Aug. 4

🔺What will be the impact to patient care?

Talks have broken off between the nurses' union and management at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.

More than 1,700 nurses are expected to walk off the job in less than two weeks.

Nurses are represented by United Steelworkers Local 4-200. President Judy Danella says a seven-hour negotiating session failed to produce an agreement on Sunday.

"Unfortunately, the hospital was unwilling to offer any changes worthwhile to the membership," read a notice on the union website.

Union leadership says no new talks are planned before the deadline.

Hospital officials insist they are willing to continue meeting with the union in hopes of averting a job action. "RWJUH nurses are currently the highest paid in New Jersey, based on publicly available salary data, yet have rejected a generous settlement at a time when hospitals nationwide are struggling to recruit and retain nurses," the hospital said in a statement to New Jersey 101.5.

It is not all about money

While salary has been a sticking point in negotiations, especially for veteran nurses, one of the biggest issue surrounds staffing levels and nurse-to-patient ratios.

"We have to stand up for ourselves and our patients," Danella said in a statement.

Multiple studies have directly linked nurse-to-patient ratios with patient outcomes. Some studies have drawn a direct link to patient mortality.

Nationally, nurses unions have been lobbying for states to adopt minimum staffing levels for hospital nurses. California was the first state to impose strict mandates on staffing levels.

Since 2002, State Sen. Joseph Vitale has sponsored legislation to require one registered nurse to be on duty for every 4-5 patients in general hospital setting and 1-2 nurses for every patient in a critical care or emergency medical setting.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital officials say they have addressed staffing issues in New Brunswick. A spokesman tells New Jersey 101.5 they have hired 600 nurses in the past 18-months and added 100 new positions.

Leading reason nurses are quitting

In addition to the impact on patient outcome, understaffing is cited as the number one reason so many nurses are leaving the profession.

The Health Professionals and Allied Employees, which also represents nurses at New Jersey hospitals, released a survey last March detailing why nurses were quitting.

Inadequate staffing levels were cited by 53% of nurses surveyed as the reason they had left the profession or were considering it.

The survey was conducted in 2022, and warned that if nothing changed, nurses would continue quitting. 95% of RN's with five or fewer years of experience said they were seriously considering finding a new career.

What happens next at RWJUH?

Based on statements from the union and management at the hospital, it seems unlikely that a new contract deal can be reached before the strike deadline.

That means at 7 a.m. on Friday, August 4, nurses will leave the bedside at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and raise picket signs outside the facility.

RWJUH officials say they are taking steps to minimize the impact of a walkout on patient care.

"We have activated an extensive contingency plan that puts patient care first by hiring a highly-qualified replacement nursing workforce for an extended period of time," RWJUH says, "Hiring replacement nurses for an extended period of time ensures continuity of care. The contingency plan comes a great cost, but it is the right thing to do for our patients."

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this report had incorrect information regarding the amount spent on lobbying by the New Jersey Hospital Association.

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