Hundreds of RNs from Across the State Join UMass Memorial Medical Center Nurses for Picket and Rally to Protest Poor Staffing Conditions, Proposed Closure of Needed Beds and Services, Wage and Benefit Cuts

Oct 13, 2010, 16:00 ET from Massachusetts Nurses Association

Protest Underscores Growing Unrest Between the State's Nurses and Hospital Administrators As the Industry Exploits the Current Economic Climate to Cut Costs at the Patients' Expense

WORCESTER, Mass., Oct. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Registered nurses from the UMass Memorial, Hahnemann, Home Health and Hospice, and the UMass University Medical Center campuses of UMass Memorial Health Care, joined by hundreds of frontline nurses from across the Commonwealth, conducted a demonstration and rally outside the entrance to the UMass Memorial Hospital campus in Worcester today.  The nurses are protesting poor staffing conditions, the recent decision to close a much-needed medical surgical floor, as well as demands for wage and benefit cuts; all of which the nurses believe compromise their ability to deliver the quality of care patients deserve.

Nurses at the hospital are outraged that the hospital is cutting services and forcing nurses to work understaffed at a time when the hospital is regularly issuing hospital-wide alerts, because there are not enough beds or staff to safely care for patients.

"It's unfortunate that my colleagues and I have had to take our issues to the streets, but our employer has left us no choice.  As registered nurses, it is our duty to advocate for our patients.  This hospital system, which has realized in excess of $90 million in profits in the last 15 months, has announced the closure of a medical-surgical unit at the start of flu and pneumonia season and when the hospital routinely declares bed shortages," said Lynn Starbard, RN, a nurse at the hospital and chair of the MNA local bargaining unit.

All of this is occurring after the medical center has posted profits of more than $90 million in last 15 months, and after management hired consultants to implement so called "lean" production methods—a process that CEO John O'Brien promises will necessitate even deeper cuts in the coming months. These same lean production methods, pioneered by a leading auto manufacturer, led to one of the largest auto recalls in history last year. In a hospital setting the nurses believe the outcome could mean an increase in patient complications, longer waits for patients and an increase in preventable patient deaths.

"Providing safe RN staffing is a constant struggle here," said Lisa Cargill, RN, co-chair of the bargaining unit. "And the hospital wants us to speed up our nursing practice and patient care as though our patients are car parts moving along an assembly line.  So today we are picketing for our patients!  We want the Hospital to change their practices so our patients can receive the safest and highest quality care possible."

The UMass Memorial campus nurses are currently locked in a protracted and contentious negotiation for a new contract. Contract language to require safe RN staffing levels is just one of the issues preventing a settlement, as is the hospital's demand that home care nurses endure a 10 percent wage cut, that part-time nurses pay significantly more for their health insurance benefits and the hospital's refusal to grant the Memorial campus nurses wage rates on a par with their counterparts on the UMass University Medical Center campus. The University nurses settled their contract in February.

Starbard had strong words regarding the proposed wage cut for home care nurses.  "We reject any attempt to discriminate against our home care nurses, as they are a key component in maintaining the continuity of care within the UMass system.  These nurses are highly skilled practitioners who work on their own with an ever increasing acutely ill patient population.  Home Care nurses save the hospital thousands of dollars by preventing costly readmissions to the hospital and their role is even more valuable given the soon to be implemented payment policies under health reform."

The protest coincided with the opening of the Massachusetts Nurses Association's annual convention, which is being held at the nearby DCU Center this week.  Hundreds of nurses from all areas of the state boarded buses from the conference to join the event.  Also attending were nurses from National Nurses United, the new national nurses union, which the MNA helped to found last year.  The demonstration underscores the growing unrest between the state's nurses and a health care industry that seems hell bent on exploiting the current economic climate as an excuse to cut services, demand concessions from nurses, and gut patient safety standards.

"Your fight is our fight, your struggle is the struggle of every nurse in this state and the nation, who is fighting to protect their patients in an increasingly dangerous work environment," said Donna Kelly-Williams, president of MNA.  "From Cape Cod to North Adams, from Massachusetts to California, nurses are rising up and speaking out about efforts by hospital administrators to use the specter of health reform to make dramatic changes, the likes of which we have not seen since the advent of managed care and health care deregulation in the 1990s.  At that time we saw a massive restructuring of the hospital industry, with the closure and/or merger of hospitals, the layoffs of thousands of caregivers and the introduction of new so called 'models of care,' all of which resulted in a dramatic reduction in the quality and safety of patient care, and literally hundreds of thousands of totally preventable patient deaths.  We are here today to let your administrators, along with administrators across the state, know that we are united in our opposition to their practices and we will do whatever it takes to stop them from harming our patients and our communities."

The MNA represents more than 1,000 nurses at the UMass Memorial, Hahnemann, Home Health and Hospice campus of UMass Memorial Health Care.  Negotiations for a new contract began in Oct. 2009, with a total of 20 sessions held to date, with the last seven involving a Federal mediator.  The parties will be back at the table on Oct. 22, 2010.

Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest professional health care organization and 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.  The MNA is also a founding member of National Nurses United, the largest national nurses union in the United States with more than 150,000 members from coast to coast.  

SOURCE Massachusetts Nurses Association