UMass Memorial/Health Alliance Nurses Press Conference To Expose Deteriorating Patient Care at Facilities in the UMass System in the Wake of Dangerous Staffing and Service Cuts

Nurses from UMass Memorial Medical Center campuses in Worcester, Marlborough Hospital and Leominster Hospital Detailed Concerns Prior to Delivering Joint Letter to UMass Memorial Health Care CEO Eric Dickson Calling for Immediate Action to Protect Patients and Improve Care (to receive a copy of the letter, email

Jul 31, 2014, 11:15 ET from Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United

WORCESTER, Mass., July 31, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Registered Nurses who work at a number of UMass Memorial Health Care facilities represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United held a press conference today to voice their concerns about a growing system-wide patient safety crisis and to call for the system's CEO to take immediate action to rescind and/or reverse plans to cut staff, eliminate and/or consolidate services in nearly every UMass/Health Alliance owned facility – plans the nurses believe are degrading the quality and safety of care for every patient entering the UMass Memorial/Health Alliance system.

"We are here today, with other members of this embattled system, to appeal to our CEO to heed our warnings and to work with us, not against us, as we all strive to fulfill our ultimate mission, which is to protect and provide healing to the patients of Central Massachusetts," said Ellen Smith, RN, a critical care nurse at UMass Memorial Medical Center's University campus who was one of four nurses from different UMass Memorial-owned facilities who spoke at the press conference.

Despite posting profits of more than $80 million in 2013 and more than $300 million over the last five years, UMass CEO Eric Dickson has endorsed cost cutting measures and the reorganization of patient care services based on a manufacturing model borrowed¾ from the auto industry. There have been countless rounds of layoffs and service closures at the UMass Memorial facilities in Worcester; cuts to the urgent care and cancer centers on the Burbank campus in Fitchburg; layoffs of staff and poor patient care conditions at the Marlborough Hospital campus, and at Leominster Hospital plans have been introduced that would downsize staff and increase patient assignments in nearly every department.

"As registered nurses, we provide 90 percent of the clinical care our patients receive in our hospitals. We are the nurses who bear witness to the suffering of our patients, needless suffering caused by administrative neglect and the callous focus on the bottom line over patient care," said Lynne Starbard, RN, a maternity nurse at the UMass Memorial Medical Center's Memorial campus.

Jayne Biddy, a nurse at Marlborough Hospital for more than 40 years, took pains to describe the impact of what she characterized as the hospital's "slash and burn management tactics," which has resulted in cuts to staffing in the hospital's emergency department and unsafe patient assignments for nurses working on the hospital's medical-surgical and telemetry floors.

"What does such a slash-and-burn tactic look like inside of a hospital," Biddy asked rhetorically.  "It looks like one RN caring for three patients at a time in the ICU, or one RN simultaneously caring for six, seven, or even eight patients on a medical/surgical floor. It looks like a patient being 14 to 31 percent more likely to suffer an injury or die as a result. It looks like an emergency department where cuts to RN staffing result in longer waits for care and an increased chance that patients will be "boarded" in the ED rather than moving to a medically appropriate floor. And it looks like a management team that is willing to implement all of these misguided plans, even at a time when their hospital has the second worst record in the state for preventable readmissions."

Smith described the impact of cuts on the UMass University campus nurses and patients. "Morale has never been lower. Nurses feel disrespected on every level, and recent staffing and service cuts impact our ability to provide the care our patients deserve.  We have seen round after round of staffing cuts, both for nurses and valuable support staff, increases to patient assignments on many floors, the elimination of one-to-one sitters for confused patients at high risk for falls or other injuries, and the elimination of the expert IV Therapy Team," Smith explained. 

Colleen Wolfe, who works on the UMass Memorial Medical Center's campus followed with her own reports of compromised patient care following cuts there. 

"In what was our seventh round of layoffs in three years, our entire IV team was abolished. Our IV team was made up of long term expert RN's dedicated to the specialty of IV placement and care across all clinical settings. They set the standard for excellence in IV care. Citing safety and quality concerns, hundreds of nurses signed a letter pleading to maintain this critical service for our patients and yet the plan moved ahead. Our patients are now enduring multiple sticks and many are harmed by complications such as phlebitis and serious tissue injury requiring a Plastic Surgeon," Wolfe explained. "Unfortunately, it does not end there. Patients at a high risk for injury no longer have the safety net of one to one sitters, our high risk Labor and Delivery unit continues to be chronically understaffed and the Emergency Department nurses are burned out and fed up with the lack of staffing needed to care for their patients."  

For Linda Grossi, an emergency department nurse at UMass/Health Alliance Leominster Hospital, the main goal for those nurses is to prevent proposed cuts from being made, thus undermining the one facility in the UMass system that is actually providing good care to its patients.  At Leominster, management is seeking to cut staff in the emergency department, pediatric and maternity units, and to increase patient assignments on the medical surgical floors.

"Ironically, up until now Leominster Hospital has been the hospital within the UMass system with the best rate of positive patient outcomes, as well as the lowest rate of preventable readmissions," Grossi explained. "Does management really believe that these achievements will be sustainable if it implements those short-sighted proposals?  After all, the same number of patients will keep coming through our doors -- be it by foot, car, or ambulance. Except now the wait times for assessments and care will become longer; RNs will be carrying dangerously high patient assignments; and poorer patient outcomes will be the end result."

Following the press conference, a delegation of nurses marched to the offices of UMass Memorial Health Care CEO Eric Dickson to deliver a letter detailing their concerns and demanding that he take immediate action to end this system-wide patient safety crisis. 

In recognition of Dickson's history as a physician who practiced alongside many of the nurses, the nurses' letter goes on to appeal to Dickson in light of his own professional ethics, stating, "As a physician …we are appealing to you personally and professionally to work with us to uphold your own sworn oath to "first, do no harm," or in this case, to stop the incredible harm your policies are causing our patients, your employees and the communities we serve."

In addition to holding the press conference and appealing to Dickson for a meeting to begin discussions of how to improve patient care, the nurses plan to take out ads in local papers, to continue to meet with and engage local and state public officials about their concerns, and to engage in other community-based efforts to educate the public about the dangers these changes pose to the health of patients seeking care at these facilities.   

Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United 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 a founding member of National Nurses United, the largest national nurses' union in the United States with more than 170,000 members from coast to coast.

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SOURCE Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United