Nurses at Southern Ocean Medical Center have reached a deal with Hackensack Meridian Health, which may pave the way for the healthcare company and the larger nurses union at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center to follow suit.

Last month, the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, which represents 1,500 nurses at both hospitals, had authorized plans to go on strike or take a job action if negotiations fell through during the pandemic.

The 300-member local at Southern Ocean, however, reached a deal and on Friday ratified a contract that increases wages and benefits.

Health Professionals and Allied Employees union president Debbie White said she was pleased with the Southern Ocean contract but the union is still pushing for greater protections for nurses at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

"Nurses are demanding protections to ensure that all workers and patients are safe as we continue to battle COVID-19," White said in a written statement Saturday. "As a larger level 2 trauma center there are more specialty areas, more critical patients and higher demands at Jersey Shore."

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.