The health care system Ascension Michigan has issued an updated staff re-assignment policy to its medical workers.
Ascension sent the policy to the Michigan Nurses Association and MNA shared it with Michigan Radio.
Under the new policy, nurses, pharmacists and other medical staff will be re-assigned on a volunteer basis to hospitals within the Ascension system dealing with a surge of COVID-19 patients.
Emily Fredericksen is a registered nurse at Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, where she's worked for 22 years, and a member of the nurses’ bargaining team. She says initial attempts to get the hospital board to change its mind seemed to make no difference.
"They were not negotiating with us. They were not responding to any of our requests to meet, or bargain or negotiate anything, despite our numerous attempts," she says.
She says the revision came about after the MNA went to the media, though Ascension never indicated what prompted the changes. (Nor did Ascension respond to a request for comment on this article.)
During the travel assignment under the new policy, which may last as long as the pandemic is straining hospital capacity, medical workers can expect a big pay bump. Registered nurses and respiratory therapists would be paid $100 an hour; pharmacists and nurses who administer anesthesia would be paid $130.
According to the document, only workers who live more than 50 miles from the surging hospital are eligible for the special program, which also includes reimbursement for travel and living expenses.
The previous policy called the re-assignments mandatory. Fredericksen hopes this new policy marks the beginning of better communication between Ascension and its workers.
"I think they've made a huge step," she says. "And I hope that they will continue to do the right thing. I hope that very soon they will come and talk with us, so that we can, you know, be prepared for what might come."