"Keeping our patients safe is the number one priority of Berkshire Medical Center nurses," said Alex Neary, co-chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee at BMC. "Unfortunately, the hospital refuses to agree to our common-sense solution to ensure safe patient care."
Between October 2015 and October 2016, nurses filed 280 unsafe staffing forms documenting times when there were not enough nurses to care for the number of patients and/or the serious level of illness or injury of the patients on a unit. That number does not include the many more times when nurses encountered unsafe patient care situations but were unable to document the incidents.
To address the problem, BMC nurses have proposed placing safe staffing levels into their contract. These nurse staffing levels would be variable based on the type of hospital unit and how many patients are on a unit at any given time. Years of research shows that when nurses have fewer patients at once, patient outcomes improve and there are lower rates of injury, medication errors and unplanned re-admissions.
"Unsafe staffing is a serious issue in the hospital's psychiatric and detox units," said Marie Geary, a psychiatric nurse and member of the MNA Bargaining Committee at BMC. "Psychiatric patients often also have medical complications. Their condition can change rapidly, and so keeping them safe while providing appropriate mental health care requires having enough nurses at one time."
Erin Ramsey, an emergency department nurse at BMC, said that the hospital is failing to prepare for times when ED use suddenly increases.
"The BMC emergency room is not staffed for a bad day, and a bad day is what we are here for," said Ramsey, a member of the MNA Bargaining Committee at BMC. "Our ED is frequently filled with a complicated mix of patients, but the hospital is decreasing how many nurses are working at one time. The expansion of urgent care centers means the BMC ED sees more patients who are very sick. We need an appropriate number of nurses to provide safe care."
Increasing admissions and sicker patients throughout the hospital has hit BMC's medical-surgical units particularly hard, said Krystal Poulen, a med-surg nurse who is on the MNA Bargaining Committee.
"Our patients are sicker than ever, yet we have less time to care for and educate them," Poulen said. "We care for patients with significant complications, many of whom should be in specialized units."
Unsafe staffing is also a serious problem at the BMC emergency department in North Adams. BMC's original plan was to use the ED as a satellite facility that served patients who are less sick than those sent to BMC in Pittsfield. But that has not happened. The North Adams ED is getting a high volume of patients and many critically ill patients. Yet BMC has provided limited nursing and other staff, leaving patients underserved.
"We are not providing the level of patient care we should because BMC does not staff appropriately," said Ruth O'Hearn, an ED nurse in North Adams and a member of the MNA Bargaining Committee at BMC. "We do not have enough nurses to safely care for patients who require sudden medical interventions, especially on overnight shifts. Our patient volume and their serious level of illness justifies adding more staff in North Adams to ensure safe care."
BMC nurses have pointed out in negotiations that there is no financial reason why BMC cannot provide safe patient care at all times. BMC posted profit margins more than twice the state and regional averages between 2011 and 2015, making a profit of $181 million, according to the Massachusetts Center for Health and Information Analysis. The hospital made a profit of $35.2 million in fiscal year 2015 and $31.2 million in 2016, according to BMC's own audited financial reporting.
The nurses' previous contract with the hospital expired on Sept. 30, 2016, but was extended. Negotiations between the MNA and BMC began in October 2016. To date 13 negotiating sessions have been held, with the next session scheduled for February 14.
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Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.
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SOURCE Massachusetts Nurses Association