MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Nearly 5,000 nurses returned to work Sunday morning after a week-long strike affecting five Twin Cities hospitals.

Nurses who work for Allina Health walked off the job last Sunday morning after contract negotiations fell apart.

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Some 1,400 replacement workers were brought in to fill the shifts at Abbott Northwestern, Mercy, United, Unity, and Philips Eye Institute.

Nurses expressed excitement in returning to their patients Sunday but, according to the Minnesota Nurses Association, they’re feeling less optimistic about a contract agreement.

For the last week, dozens of nurses have gathered outside Abbott Northwestern to walk the picket line. On Sunday morning, Allina nurses showed up in their scrubs ready to return to work.

“There will be a lot of cleaning today and putting things back to where they’re supposed to be and obviously taking care of our people,” said Abbott Northwestern nurse Pam Eliason.

The 4,800 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association walked off the job after four months of contract negotiations over healthcare, staffing and workplace violence prevention broke down.

“I lost four 12-hours shifts,” Eliason said. “I put on 104 miles walking this week. Yeah, we’re in it for long hall.”

Yet, after a week of no work and no discussion, there’s still no sign of an agreement any time soon.

Nurses who celebrated their return to the job said they can’t help but wonder if they’ll be back on the picket line again.

“We’re eager to get back to the table and talk about all the concerns at table,” said nurse Angela Becchetti. “I won’t say it’s not going to happen, but it could happen and we’re hoping it can be avoided.”

“We would loved to have welcomed our nurses back with a resolution to their contract,” said Penny Wheeler, the CEO of Allina Health. “That would’ve been sweeter still, and that’s where we have to get to.”

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The main issue nurses have with the health care system is health insurance. They’ve also voiced concerns about staffing and workplace violence.

“Allina Health needs to address all of our concerns for an agreement to come out of this,” said Becchetti.

The MNA says another strike isn’t completely off the table, but they hope it can be avoided.

“It could potentially happen,” Becchetti said. “We’re hoping it’s not going to, but we never know what Allina Health is going to do at this time.”

“Bridging this divide and getting back to the table as quickly as we can,” said Wheeler, “and both of us opening our eyes a little bit to see how we can come together, I think that’s how we serve our communities best.”

The nurses’ union says it plans to file 20 complaints with state and federal agencies about the patient care provided by some replacement nurses this week.

The Health Department is investigating but won’t comment.

Allina health officials deny any claims that patients didn’t receive adequate treatment. Hospital officials say that everything in the hospitals ran smoothly during the strike.

“We continue to be impressed both by the replacement nurses who are skilled, confident, flexible, and professional and by other care teams who are doing an outstanding job partnering with those nurses to provide excellent care,” said David Kanihan, the vice president of communications at Allina Health.

“These nurses know their stuff, they’re experienced and have decades of experience,” said Wheeler. “That does not mean we don’t want our own nurses back, because they’ve done wonderfully well.”

Neither side has set a schedule for returning to the bargaining table.

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