by Cara Gardner and Pia K. Hansen

Medical Emergency -- SPOKANE -- Hundreds of registered nurses and their supporters will picket outside Sacred Heart Medical Center this week, because more than 1,200 unionized registered nurses at SHMC have not reached an agreement with the hospital, ironically, over health insurance benefits.

"Additional health insurance costs of the hospital proposal would raise the co-pays for office visits, ER visits and drug co-pay," says Anne Tan Piazza, spokeswoman for the Washington State Nurses Association, the union representing SHMC registered nurses. "In addition, they'd pay for all future premium increases for dependents."

Tan Piazza says the union and SHMC haven't been able to reach a contract agreement regarding mandatory overtime and overall economic packages for the nurses. The last time nurses at SHMC picketed regarding their contract was in 1998.

"We have two mediations sessions on March 15 and 16. Both sides have decided to call in a federal mediator to help the dialogue," Tan Piazza says. "Our goal is to reach a contract agreement so we can focus our full attention on the patients."

On Monday, March 15, SHMC registered nurses will hold a candlelight vigil in Cowley Park (across from the hospital) from 5:30-7 pm.

Street Meeting -- SPOKANE -- Chances are, you've grumbled about which streets need what kinds of repairs before. For South Side commuters, this is your last chance to give input on future projects. The Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC) is holding its third and final series of meetings over the next couple of weeks to discuss future South Side street projects.

"What we hope to do is create a report with four [street project] ideas that have the most public support," says Shannon Amidon, public information officer for the SRTC. "We're looking for what the public thinks is important for the South Hill's transportation future."

Amidon says that during the first two series of meetings, held last year, participants identified 10 major projects that need to happen. During this third series, those ideas will be dwindled down by about half.

"I think it's important to point out that there are tons of qualitative comments that have to do with bicycle and pedestrian connectability in Spokane's transportation system," Amidon says, noting that future projects should take into account multiple modes of transportation.

The conclusions from the meetings will be drawn up in a report for City Council members and County Commissioners.

"They'll decide whether these are projects they'd like to pursue," Amidon says. "There's no immediate action anticipated. We do long-range planning; it takes, from conception to actual projects, seven to 10 years."

The meetings begin today, March 11, at Chase Middle School, 4747 E. 37th Ave. The next is on March 18 at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church Annex, 5720 S. Perry St., and the final meeting is on March 25 at the Ferris High School library, 3020 E. 37th Ave. All meetings run from 5:30-7 pm.

Spare Change -- SPOKANE -- Downtown visitors continue to complain about panhandlers. Some pedestrians feel threatened when approached by people asking for change, and local merchants worry that too many panhandling encounters will keep customers from returning to the downtown core.

On Tuesday, the Downtown Spokane Partnership and the Business Improvement District launched a new program they hope will allow people to give change, but at the same time ensure that it goes to organizations that help homeless and street people.

"When people give change to a panhandler, it's because they want to help the homeless," said Jeff Warner, former BID chair. "But oftentimes, money given to a person on the street isn't used in ways you intended."

The program is called Change for the Better and it consists of collection boxes that will be placed with 30 businesses as well as some informational material.

"The proceeds we collect will go to job training programs, to actually help people get off the street," said Warner.

Catholic Charities, the Union Gospel Mission and Crosswalk will all benefit from the collected donations.

"We have no idea how much money we'll collect," said Warner. "It depends on how people respond to putting their change in a box instead of giving it to a person on the street."

Publication date: 03/11/04

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