WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) - Nurses at two Wichita Via Christi hospitals, St. Francis and St. Joseph, have reached a contract agreement with the company after months of negotiations.

"I don't know if there's a way to explain how I feel other than we have a voice. Ascension has to listen to us," said Shelly Rader, who has been a nurse at St. Francis for 20 years.

Rader was on the bargaining team for the contract.

It was a long and difficult road. Nurses at Ascension Via Christi went on two strikes and were bargaining for over a year as they fought for a better work environment so they could give all patients better health care.

"That is number one from the beginning," said Lisa Watson, another nurse who was also on the bargaining team.

She says negotiations began in February 2023. There were long days of bargaining, but the nurses finally reached an agreement with Via Christi.

"This is about Wichita. This is about nursing in general, and we are so happy we got to set the standard for Wichita, and we will continue to raise that," said Watson.

She says she expects more people will come to work at the hospital with its new benefits, and this may push non-unionized hospital workers to also fight for their rights.

Watson says the contract will make sure all units are fully staffed and will improve security. This comes after a man, Miguel Rodela, followed an employee in June of 2023 into St. Francis. He posed as family members and nurses, and raped three patients

The new contract also guarantees every union member will get a raise during the two year stretch. 

"We will be able to sit down with our administrators and talk with them about the issues we see throughout the hospital," said Rader.

She says in the past, communication with management has been an issue.

Nurses say they're ecstatic to have this historic contract. They say it's not just for St. Joseph and St. Francis, but for every hospital in Wichita. They hope this will encourage non-union hospitals to stand up for themselves and their patients.

"Everyone needs healthcare at some point in time. This will touch every person in the community," said Watson.

An Ascension Via Christi spokesperson gave the following statement to KAKE on Tuesday:

"We are pleased Ascension Via Christi St. Francis and St. Joseph represented registered nurses have ratified their initial RN contracts. These contracts respect the needs of our registered nurses and create a solid foundation for a collaborative and respectful working relationship.

We thank our nurses for voting to accept these fair and equitable contracts and are eager to move forward together as we continue to fulfill our Mission of caring for all and improving the health of the communities we are privileged to serve."