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Minnesota hospital executives stressed the importance of staffing in response to the nurses strike announced earlier Thursday, noting a current "unprecedented surge" in respiratory illnesses.

The Minnesota Nurses Association authorized a strike to begin on Dec. 11, lasting through Dec. 31 in the Twin Cities. Strikes in Two Harbors and Duluth will start the same day but no end date has been provided as of Thursday afternoon.

The decision came after multiple failed negotiations between the MNA and hospital executives regarding nurse contracts, working conditions and the accusations that nurses have been subjected to unfair labor practices. 

Both sides has claimed the other won't participate fully in the bargaining process. The union has claimed executives won't budge on their previous proposals to reach an agreement, while higher ups claim union leaders won't let a mediator oversee discussions.

Dr. Marc Gorelick, President and Chief Executive Officer with Children's Minnesota, said the decision to strike when hospitals in the state and across the country are seeing an uptick in various needs for ICU beds "is the worst possible time."

"If this work stoppage materializes, it's going to put kids and patients in danger," Gorelick said.

MNA leaders have long stated that Minnesota's hospitals are in a crisis due to staffing shortages, and say workers are being put at risk 

Epidemiologists in the state are seeing "high, record numbers" of RSV and influenza cases, according to Patricia Stinchfield, a pediatric nurse practitioner who specializes in vaccine-preventable diseases. She noted that RSV is one of the leading causes of hospitalization and death in children under the age of five.

"In a normal year, about 58,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized for RSV," Stinchfield stated, noting that it can also affect older individuals at a high rate.

Gorelick highlighted the issues the state has with getting temporary nurses, as it takes longer than the 10 days hospitals have before the strike goes into place. Minnesota isn't one of the 39 states that has a Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which allows nurses to practice in other NLC states without having to obtain additional licenses, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Gorelick noted the NLC has been opposed by the MNA in the past.

"It would be a tool that could help us recruit nurses to Minnesota which is what we've been trying to do together for a long time," he said. 

Regulations require temporary nurses to go through a process where they are officially licensed to practice in Minnesota, which takes about 30 days to obtain a permit, and up to 14 weeks to make their licenses permanent for practice, according to Senior System Director of Clinical Operations at Children's Minnesota, Yinka Adegbenro-Ajose.

The two main issues that remain at a crossroads at the negotiation table are wages and staffing, according to Gorelick.

MNA leaders have criticized hospitals for their high levels of executive pay, and have sought wage increases by 39% over the life of the next three-year contract. MNA President Mary Turner said this week that they've lowered their wage increase-demands "down to 20%" over a proposed three-year deal. 

During the last round of negotiations, hospitals said they offered around a 10-12% increase over three years, claiming it's the largest wage increase they have offered in the past 15 years.

Essentia Health said in a statement on Thursday their recent proposal "would have a new hospital nurse in the Twin Ports making $77,000 annually to start and more than $100,000 by year 3."

"We firmly believe that another strike isn’t in anyone’s best interest. Through negotiations, our goal has always been to protect the emotional and financial well-being of our nurses. As we saw in September, it takes an emotional toll on all involved, including the communities for whom we have a shared responsibility to care for. And it doesn’t move us any closer to a resolution," Essentia Health said.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison shared his support for nurses on social media, saying he encourages "hospitals to put #PatientsBeforeProfits and reach a fair agreement with our nurses."

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