MARSHALL (KMHL) – During the COVID-19 pandemic there appears to be an issue between local nurses and Avera Marshall over staffing and scheduling.

Local nurses, the Minnesota Nurses Association and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees unions are upset with Avera Marshall and CEO Mary Maertens regarding scheduling and staffing issues at the hospital.

The unions and local nurses jointly sent a letter to Avera CEO Bob Sutton earlier this month expressing their frustrations.

Avera-Marshall nurse Melissa Louwagie tells Marshall Radio the hospital has been violating their contracts because they are not getting their schedules in a timely fashion. Louwagie says their contract calls for nurses to receive their schedules two weeks in advance, but nurses are only getting the schedules about 6 days in advance.

In addition, she claims they are getting scheduled extra shifts and are being asked to take extra call shifts, during the pandemic.

Louwagie says nurses no longer feel like their free time outside of the hospital is theirs, because she says they have to be ready to return to work at a moment’s notice.

“We’ve made proposals to try to negotiate to find a middle ground that works well for the hospital and for the nurses and that hasn’t happened so far,” says Louwagie.

Avera Marshall, in a press release, points to the national emergency and says in southwest Minnesota alone more than 800 people are infected with coronavirus today. The hospital says this is an unprecedented time, and, “we all need to work together to live in this time of COVID-19.”

But Jon Tollefson the labor representative to the Minnesota Nurses Association says the issue really isn’t about a surge of patients from COVID-19.

“This is really in response to the poor staffing problems that are happening right now,” said Tollefson. “Because of this disrespect of nurses a lot of people are quitting the hospital.”

Tollefson says the nurses believe that’s why they are being forced to cover the additional shifts.

Officials from Avera Marshall say they have taken measures to help their nurses, including a $5 per hour COVID-19 pay increase for registered nurses and a $2 per hour pay increase for LPNs.

Additionally, Avera says for the months of April, May and June they have provided an additional monthly stipend for all employees, including nurses and paid their health insurance premiums for those three months.

The hospital adds that they have attempted to work with the unions, but the unions have continued to try and operate as if it is business as usual during the pandemic.