2005 News

800 Days without a Contract

09.07.2005

Massachusetts' most vulnerable patients are threatened by Gov. Romney's disrespect of the state’s RNs and health professionals

CANTON, MA—Today, September 7, 2005, marks 800 days that state-employed registered nurses and health professionals have gone without a contract, a situation that is preventing the recruitment and retention of the professional staff needed to adequately care for the state’s most vulnerable residents, including the severely mentally ill, mentally retarded and disabled veterans. The Romney administration refuses to make Unit 7 jobs competitive with the private sector despite what their own people are telling them and they continue to drag their feet and won't agree to even negotiate until some time in October.

“Governor Romney—while traveling the country to curry favor with voters in his bid for the White House—has abandoned this state’s responsibility to care for its most vulnerable residents,” said Bill Fyfe, RN and president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association’s chapter of state-employed health care professionals, which includes more than 1,800 members. “He has shown a total disrespect for those dedicated professionals who have sacrificed so much to care for them.”

State-employed health professionals include registered nurses, physicians, pharmacists, psychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, dentists, speech and hearing therapists and podiatrists. They work in soldiers’ homes for disabled veterans; state hospitals for the mentally ill; residential facilities for mentally retarded adults. They also work at centers for HIV and drug-affected mothers and children; group homes for those cannot live independently; and high-security wards for violent adolescents or suicidal/homicidal residents, mentally ill prisoners, and clients sent for pre-trial evaluations.

“We are the safety net for the state’s most troubled and helpless citizens, we’re the last stop, and without our care and services, many of these people would end up homeless and many would die,” said Fyfe. “The Governor’s treatment of the state’s caregivers represents the shredding of the state’s safety net. We will not allow him to continue his campaign for personal gain without waging our own campaign for respect and decency for ourselves and for those truly in need.”

Negotiations between the Romney administration and the health professionals began on July 23, 2004. The administration came to the table with more than 100 proposals to cut benefits and no pay increase. The administration has also sought to strip the nurses and professionals of all their rights to have input on staffing conditions at the facilities. According to recent surveys, staffing levels are dangerously low—which severely compromises the quality and safety of care in the state’s facilities.

“In order to ensure patient safety, compensation and staffing levels in state facilities must be competitive with the private sector,” Fyfe explained. “Working conditions at one state hospital were so bad that the turnover rate was over 80 percent in a five-year period. Patients are not safe under these conditions, and these conditions also make it extremely difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff.”

Poor Care Statewide Due to Staffing Shortages
The MNA's claims of poor care are supported by hundreds of official reports of unsafe staffing submitted by professionals at a number of the state's facilities in recent years. This includes the results of recent surveys of staff in a number of state facilities for the mentally ill and mentally retarded. Surveys at two of the state’s largest mental health hospitals, Taunton State Hospital (TSH) and Worcester State Hospital (WSH) had the following alarming results:

  • 97 percent of the professional staff at TSH and 96 percent of the staff at WSH reported that their units were dangerously understaffed some or most of the time.
  • 95 percent of the staff at TSH and 89 percent of the staff at WSH reported that staffing levels have been chronically inadequate for the past two years.
  • 89 percent of the TSH professionals and 77 percent of the WSH staff believe current working conditions force them to provide a level of care below their professional standards.
  • 100 percent of the TSH professionals and 81 percent of the WSH professionals reported they lack the sufficient time to prove the level of care their patients require.

Survey results were even more alarming for two residential facilities that specialize in the care of the profoundly mentally retarded—Wrentham Developmental Center and Templeton Developmental Center.

  • 100 percent of the registered nurses and professionals at Templeton and 69 percent of registered nurses and professionals at Wrentham believe their facility is dangerously understaffed some or most of the time.
  • 89 percent of the staff at Wrentham and 80 percent of the staff at Templeton reported an increase in medical errors due to understaffing.
  • 89 percent of the Wrentham professionals and 75 percent of the Templeton professionals reported that current working conditions force them to provide a level of care below their professional standards.
  • And in both surveys, nearly 75 percent of the professionals report they are seriously considering leaving.
“We can no longer allow people with severe mental illness and disability to continue to receive a diminished level of care in an under-funded system,” Fyfe concluded. “It is our ethical and professional obligation to advocate for our patients and that is what we intend to do.”
FPO