Before ending her shift at Temple University Hospital to join a picket line Wednesday shortly after 7 a.m., intensive care nurse Mayette Calleja-Baglieri checked on her patients one last time.
"I made sure my drips weren't going to run out," she said, her eyes brimming with tears. "I made sure they were comfortable," said Calleja-Baglieri, who has worked at Temple since 1970.
Outside, she joined hundreds of other Temple nurses and other health professionals who walked off the job after failing to win a new contract to replace one that expired Sept. 30.
Before a noon rally, signs saying "Temple, Respect Your Professional Staff" and Nurses on Strike for Respect" elicited horn blasts from passing drivers. Strikers blocked two northbound lanes of North Broad Street near Ontario Avenue while workers and union officials urged pickets to hold strong.
Points of contention between the North Philadelphia hospital and 1,500 members of PASNAP, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, include pay raises, the cost of health insurance, tuition benefits for employees' children, and random drug testing.
Hospital administrators hired about 850 temporary employees through an agency that specializes in strike forces to help operate the 601-bed hospital. The hospital typically staffs 450 beds.
Hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Harmon said nearly 100 patients came to the hospital's emergency room Wednesday through 2:30 p.m. when a two-hour diversion to other hospitals started. "It was the direct result of the high volume of patients we've been seeing," unrelated to the strike, Harmon said.
"We don't know how long this is going to last, but we will be able to continue to provide care to our patients for the duration of the strike," Harmon said. The hospital has 400 physicians and 3,000 other employees.
No talks were scheduled.
"We've not heard anything. Frankly, I didn't really expect to" because the hospital said last week that its position had not changed in six months, said Bill Cruice, PASNAP's executive director.
The hospital's willingness to spend heavily on strike workers - advertising, through an agency, temporary positions paying as much as $10,388 a week - left some Temple employees convinced that money is not the issue. "They are just determined to break our union up," said Belinda Brown, a nurse from North Philadelphia who works in cardiac care.
Striking was not easy, said Debbie Mallender, a 28-year veteran of the hospital. "It's horrifying. I don't want to do this. Temple wants this," said Mallender, a Wilmington resident who is a nurse in the hospital's post-anesthesia care unit.
Calleja-Baglieri, who joined the pickets at the end of her shift, asked her manager, who would, at least at first, take over the care of her patients, to keep a special watch on one of them. "Her blood pressure is off. She's very unstable," she said she told the manager.
The Washington Township resident then walked outside to pick up a sign and start marching. "I've never been on a strike," said Calleja-Baglieri. "Although we have to do this, I'm very concerned."