TUE AM News: UW Health nurses call for union recognition on Labor Day; UW report explores gaps in high-speed internet coverage

— UW Health nurses argue patient care is suffering as fewer and less experienced nurses are being asked to shoulder a greater burden. 

Speaking over the weekend at a news conference organized by advocates for unionization, UW Health nurse Shari Signer said cuts to staffing ratios and benefits as well as nurse training hours have strained an already dwindling workforce. Over 1,500 UW Health nurses have indicated support for forming a union, according to a release from SEIU Health Care Wisconsin. 

“Now our new nurses are thrown in with a full load, and if they need help, odds are they have no one to turn to other than another new nurse because so many experienced nurses have left UW,” Signer said. “This is not right. It’s not right for new nurses, it’s not right for experienced nurses. Most importantly, it is not right for our patients.” 

Nurses on Friday gave official notice of plans to strike from 7 a.m. Sept. 13 to 7 a.m. Sept. 16. SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin says a “strong majority” of nurses employed by UW Health are calling for union recognition from hospital leadership. A previous union contract with SEIU expired in 2014, the release shows. 

But UW Health says it’s uncertain whether the health system can engage in collective bargaining under the state’s Act 10 law, arguing the planned strike will put patients at risk.

Attorney General Josh Kaul has issued an opinion saying while UW Health isn’t required to engage in union discussions, it can do so. But the health system points to differing opinions from the Wisconsin Legislative Council, Legislative Reference Bureau, and internal and external legal counsel. 

In a statement in late August, UW Health said the planned strike “will be unpleasant for patients and for our staff, but we will get through it and never lose sight of our shared mission to meet the needs of our patients.” 

SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin President Pat Raes said some people believe the push for unionization only seeks to improve wages and benefits for nurses. 

“That’s not the case,” she said. “More importantly, nurses advocate daily, hourly and every minute for our patients. And forming a union gives us the right to advocate better.” 

She pointed to studies showing nursing homes with union workers have lower rates of COVID-19 infection, while acute care hospitals with nursing unions have a higher nurse-to-patient ratio, leading to better health outcomes. 

Several Dem lawmakers spoke in support of the nurses seeking union representation, including U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan of the Town of Vermont and Reps. Francesca Hong of Madison and Dianne Hesselbein of Middleton. 

Watch a video of the news conference here: https://www.facebook.com/SEIUHCWI/videos/509618591171690 

— A recent report from UW-Madison’s Division of Extension shows rural areas of the state are much less likely to have access to high-speed internet. 

The current federal broadband definition is 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload. But the report notes FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has recently proposed that definition be updated to upload/download speeds of 100/20 Mbps. 

Report authors say it’s unknown if this benchmark will be put in place as the official Federal Communications Commission threshold, but they note the 100/20 Mbps levels are being used in the infrastructure law’s Broadband Access, Equity and Deployment grant program to define “underserved” locations. 

Referencing maps with census block broadband coverage data, report authors note that 92.1 percent of metro area residents in Wisconsin have access to 100/20 Mbps internet, versus just 68.1 percent of the state’s nonmetro population. 

The report also has a different breakdown for urbanized and rural areas, as some census blocks located in metropolitan areas are considered to be rural rather than urban. 

This section shows that 99.8 percent of residents in urbanized areas have access to the standard 25/3 Mbps broadband and 99.4 percent have access to 100/20 Mbps. 

But in rural areas, 90.4 percent of the population has access to 25/3 Mbps while only 55.5 percent has 100/20 Mbps. 

Report authors note that broadband affordability and access above the current 25/3 Mbps standard may “become a competitive advantage” for some rural areas seeking to attract residents — especially those who can work remotely. They say housing costs, recreational assets and other quality of life measures will become increasingly important. 

“Whether or not access to higher speed broadband translates into population growth in these regions remains to be seen,” they wrote. 

See the full report: https://economicdevelopment.extension.wisc.edu/2022/08/31/broadband-disparities-apparent-in-many-regions-of-wisconsin/ 

— Kohler Co. Executive Chairman Herb Kohler Jr. passed away over the weekend at the age of 83. 

Kohler was well-known for his role in growing the manufacturing company founded by his grandfather, as well as developing and owning the Whistling Straits golf complex that hosted the Ryder Cup in 2021. According to a release, he spent 61 years with the company. 

In a statement, his family said his “zest for life, adventure and impact inspires all of us. We traveled together, celebrated together, and worked together. He was all in, all the time, leaving an indelible mark on how we live our lives today and carry on his legacy.” 

See the release: https://www.kohlercompany.com/press-room/press-releases/herbert-v-kohler-jr-1939-2022-an-incomparable-spirit/ 

— In a recent video produced by the Main Street Alliance, American Provenance founder and CEO Kyle LaFond discusses some of the challenges facing rural small business owners. 

“It’s really difficult to attract capital investment when you’re starting a small business in an area that’s not located in a metropolitan center,” LaFond said. “We need to do better to make sure that folks are able to find good, high-paying jobs in the places where they were born and grew up, so they don’t have to leave and look for opportunities elsewhere.” 

LaFond launched his personal care products company in a machine shed on his fourth-generation family farm in Mt. Horeb after coming up with the idea while working as a middle-school science teacher. 

In the video, he notes “it’s very difficult” to convince small, local banks to lend money to entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to grow in rural areas. 

“Access to capital is going to be a key component of helping rural small businesses succeed, because right now there is definitely a lack of those opportunities,” he said. 

Watch the video here: 

Listen to an earlier WisBusiness.com podcast with LaFond: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2021/wisbusiness-the-podcast-featuring-kyle-lafond-founder-of-american-provenance/ 

— State health officials say shipments of updated COVID-19 vaccines that target the omicron variant are expected to arrive at vaccination sites in the next few weeks.

That includes pharmacies, health centers and clinics in Wisconsin, a release from the state Department of Health Services shows. DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake is applauding the CDC’s recent announcement that such “bivalent” booster doses will soon be available in the state. 

The CDC approval came after the FDA authorized a single dose of a Moderna COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccine doses for adults and a single dose of a Pfizer bivalent booster for people aged 12 and older, according to the DHS release. 

“These bivalent boosters were developed through rigorous processes to provide broad protection against COVID-19 by including components of the original virus strain and the Omicron variant,” Timberlake said in the release. 

She says the state agency will provide updated vaccination guidance once the CDC releases its own updated clinical recommendations to go with the new boosters. 

This latest update comes as COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin continue to decline, with the seven-day average reaching 1,168 cases per day as of Thursday. That’s the lowest that number has been since April of this year. 

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 vaccination effort has seen little progress in recent months. Per the DHS site, 64.7 percent of state residents have received at least one vaccine dose, while 61.6 percent have completed the vaccine series and 35.4 percent have gotten a booster or additional dose. 

Still, community-level virus activity is relatively low based on new cases, hospitalizations and the share of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Just 10 Wisconsin counties are in the highest level of activity, and nearly half are in the lowest level. 

See the release: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/news/releases/090122a.htm 

See more COVID-19 figures from DHS: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/data.htm 


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