By Greg Argos

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — More and more nurses are needed to handle the surge in coronavirus cases. But issues surrounding COVID-19 could force hundreds of nurses in our area onto the picket line.

“The nurses run the hospital. We are the heart and soul of the hospital,” registered nurse Sue Swift said.

If that’s the case, very soon, four hospitals in our area could be on life support.

This comes as 2,500 nurses represented by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, or PASNAP, prepare to go on strike.

“Without the nurses, the hospital would not run,” Swift said.

Swift is a registered nurse with more than three decades of experience and also represents nearly 500 nurses at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

Her nurses, along with those at nearby Einstein Medical Center, St. Mary Medical Center in Bucks County and Mercy Fitzgerald in Delaware County, have already authorized a strike.

“I think for all the hospitals, they would all agree, that staffing is the number one issue,” Maria Plano said.

She is also a nurse at St. Christopher’s and the union’s vice president.

“Nurses are stretched so thin, and I know they’re not able to get where they need to be and I know this is happening at Einstein, I know at St. Mary this is the number one issue, Mercy Fitz, staffing. We need some kind of guidelines where nurses are in the discussion and helping to make the decisions,” Plano said.

Now with the increase in COVID-19 cases throughout the region, there is concern about how improper staffing could affect care.

“They don’t have the nurses they need to care for, and they are getting an influx of these COVID patients. They did when this began, they did over the summer, maybe it weaned off a little bit but now we’re surging right back,” said Plano.

Eyewitness News reached out to public affairs for all four hospital systems. The only one to respond was Einstein. A spokesperson there writes in part, “We’re currently in the middle of negotiations with our nurses and currently, have no further comment.”

So where do we stand right now? Well, nurses at all four of these hospitals have authorized the vote to strike. That means after giving the proper ten day’s notice to hospital administrators, they could strike at any time after that.

Of course, negotiations are still ongoing and so this strike could be averted.

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