Last updated: July 22. 2014 3:24PM - 662 Views
By Aaron K. Nelson

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PAINTSVILLE — Weeks of reportedly tense negotiations have come to an end and the possibility of a strike has been allayed, now that Highlands Regional Medical Center (HRMC) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1199 have agreed to a new three-year contract.

On Thursday night, HRMC gave the union their “last, best, and final offer.” The proposal offered increases in pay, but kept changes to health coverage, including slightly higher premiums and deductibles, that have been a sticking point in talks so far. “We have been working to deal with the negative effects of Obamacare, and the recent impact of Medicaid managed care, and we have to reduce our expenses in a number of areas,” said Chris Hoffman, Chief Operating Officer, Highlands Regional Medical Center. “Our cost of health care benefits is approaching $5 million dollars per year.”

All day Friday, union members voted on the deal at the Ramada Inn in Paintsville.

“This was a tough proposal to deliver considering there were concessions that had to be made concerning benefits,” said Highlands Health System Chief Financial Officer Jack Blackwell. “The hospital needs to dramatically reduce expenses but still provide good benefits and pay to employees.”

The details of the compromise include across-the-board pay increases for each of the next three years, as well as hourly raises for employees in patient access, billing, phlebotomy, and ER assistance. For ratifying the contract, every union employee will also be getting a one-time $350 bonus.

“Workers at Highlands always put quality care above all else, and tonight’s vote demonstrates a further commitment to that promise to our community,” said Joyce Gibson, West Virginia and Kentucky healthcare director of SEIU 1199. “Our members understand and appreciate the current fiscal health of Highlands regional medical center and were willing to do their part to keep healthcare options viable for eastern Kentucky.”

The new contract will go into place immediately, but the changes to health coverage will not take effect until October.

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