LAWRENCE, Mass., April 8, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The nurses of Lawrence General Hospital (LGH), who are engaged in an effort to improve patient care and win a fair contract to allow them to recruit and retain the nursing staff needed to deliver quality patient care, have received strong support from Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera. On April 4, while the nurses were negotiating with management, they were copied on a powerful letter from Mayor Dan Rivera to LGH CEO Diane Anderson, where he voiced strong support for the nurses and called upon management to reach a fair settlement that meets their demands. A copy of the letter is attached.
"I have met with registered nurses who have informed me of the serious issues they have raised during more than eight months of contract negotiations. I find the proposal they have made to be reasonable… Lawrence deserves first class healthcare and that includes emergency services that treat patients in a timely manner. It has also come to my attention that Lawrence General Hospital ranks last in the state for emergency department wait times and routinely has patients 'boarding' in hallways waiting for beds. This is a direct result of a gap in nurse staffing across many departments in the hospitals," the Mayor wrote.
"Finally, I believe that everyone has the right to a good wage and fair benefits, including the nurse's proposal regarding retirement benefits that would allow them to save for their future. Lawrence General has always been part of this community and we must ensure that it remains strong. We cannot forget the work of those who work so hard to provide quality patient care. The nurses who live and work in our districts care deeply about the patients they serve, as I know you do. I am asking that you come to a fair settlement with the nurses so that you can resume the important work of caring for this community."
The nurses are attempting to reach an agreement that includes much needed staffing improvements to ensure optimum patient care. Other items include: improved time off, increased retirement benefits, and a fair wage increase. On March 27, a delegation of more than 70 nurses marched to the offices of the hospital president and chief nursing officer to deliver petitions calling for these improvements signed by more than 80 percent of the nearly 500 nurses at the hospital. Last week the nurses delivered to management their official notice of their intent to conduct informational picketing outside the hospital on April 11 from 2 – 4 p.m. The nurses and management have a negotiating session on Tuesday, April 9, where it is hoped progress can be made towards a settlement to avert the picket and future job actions.
"I'm proud to work in this hospital and in this community, but there's room for improvement," said Travis Libman, RN, an emergency room nurse at the hospital and chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association. "Too many patients are left boarding for an extended amount of time in the emergency room while waiting for a bed in the hospital. With the proper amount of staff, we could help alleviate this congestion and get patients where they need to go much quicker. Delivery of quality care is our top priority throughout these contract negotiations and beyond."
According to ProPublica, a service that tracks emergency department (ED) wait times for hospitals across the nation, Lawrence General Hospital patients experience the longest ED wait times in the state (an average of over three hours). LGH patients also experience some of the longest wait times in the state to receive needed medication for serious injuries. LGH also ranks near bottom statewide for the time it takes for patients to be admitted to the hospital from the ED (7 hours and 42 minutes).
Between January of 2018, through March of this year, LGH nurses have submitted to management more than 140 official reports detailing instances where nurses were forced to take excessive patient assignments that, "poses a serious threat to the safety and well-being of my patients."
As an alternative to having patient care units fully staffed with nurses experienced to care for patients in those areas, LGH has also engaged in the mandatory "floating" of nurses. This is when nurses from one area of the medical center are transferred to another where there is a staffing need. The nurse may be unfamiliar with the specific patient conditions, the equipment or procedures on that unit. Patients, as a result, may not be able to receive appropriate care.
To improve patient care, the nurses are seeking to increase RN staffing in key areas of the hospital to ensure patients receive the care they need when they need it. This will allow for an efficient flow of patients out of the emergency center and onto the inpatient units. The nurses have proposed to ban mandatory floating of nurses, and to prevent the hospital from making any future cuts to nurse staffing levels.
To compensate for the lack of appropriate staff at the facility, the hospital has limited nurse's access to previously agreed upon time off benefits, which is eroding staff morale and preventing nurses from having needed time with their own families.
"Nurses are seeking a competitive salary and benefits, including improved retirement and time off benefits that support the retention of staff and fosters a positive work life balance," said Laurie Spheekas, RN, a nurse on the hospital's telemetry unit and vice chair of the nurses local bargaining unit.
The nurses believe Lawrence General is well positioned to make a greater investment in nurses and the quality of patient care, given that Lawrence General has been included in the merger of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health, which will be the second-largest hospital system in the state, and one of the most profitable. As part of that agreement, BI/Lahey has committed to invest several million dollars in LGH as a safety net provider, and more favorable reimbursement rates.
"The nurses of Lawrence General Hospital, many of whom have worked here for several years, are committed to ensure that this hospital is a first-class provider of quality patient care for the residents of Greater Lawrence," Spheekas concluded. "We provide 90 percent of the clinical care delivered by this hospital. This is not only our place of work, but for most of us, this is our community hospital and we have a professional and personal interest in its continued success."
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.
SOURCE Massachusetts Nurses Association