2009 News

Nurses Protest Placement of Patients in Hallways

03.23.2009

St. Vincent Hospital Nurses Launch Campaign to Warn Public of Safety Risks Following Management’s Implementation of Policy Allowing Care of Patients in Hallways on Inpatient Units

Policy Endangers Patients, Violates Patients’ Privacy Rights, Increases Risk of Infections

Editor’s Note:  Nurses will Leaflet the Public Entering the Hospital Today
Call David Schildmeier at MNA for Specific Leafleting Schedule at 781.249.0430

WORCESTER, MA – Raising serious concerns for the safety of their patients, the registered nurses of St. Vincent Hospital, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, are alerting the public of their strong opposition to a new policy by hospital management that is allowing patients to be cared for and boarded in hallways and corridors on inpatient units of the hospital as a means of dealing with the problem of emergency department overcrowding.

At an open meeting of the nurses held late last week, the nurses overwhelming endorsed a number of actions by their union, including public leafleting outside the facility, which begins today; the placement of ads detailing their opposition to the policy and its risks to patients, and community outreach to senior centers and other groups who have an interest in the quality and safety of patient care at the hospital. Hundreds of nurses have signed petitions opposing the practice, and many are wearing buttons that say, “Hall No, We Won’t Go.” The leaflet and ads advise patients to refuse placement in a hallway and to call their physician and insurer to demand care in a patient room.  A copy of the public leaflet and newspaper ad is attached.

“The nurses of St. Vincent Hospital are outraged by this decision and are committed to informing the public and all responsible officials of the dangers posed by this practice,” said Marie Ritacco, RN, a recovery room nurse and member of the MNA local bargaining unit at St. Vincent Hospital. “As professionals, we are personally accountable for the safety of our patients, and we are obligated under our license to advocate for our patients. We will not allow the safety of our patients to be needlessly jeopardized by shortsighted practices.

According to the MNA, the boarding of patients in hallways of inpatient units:

  • Endangers patients and results in degrading and substandard care.
  • Violates patients’ rights to dignity and privacy protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
  • Violates numerous infection control standards, increasing the risk of infections and other complications.
  • May force nurses with a full complement of patients to take on the care of additional patients in an unsafe setting (hallways).

 “When you are admitted to a hospital, you should expect to be placed in a designated room with the appropriate staff and equipment to provide the care you deserve,” said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, co-chair of the nurses bargaining unit and a medical surgical nurse who might be forced to care for a patient in the hallway of her unit. “If you come to the hallway of my floor, you should know that I may already be caring for too many patients. Under those circumstances there is no way I could provide safe, never mind adequate care to another patient. And the hallway is no place for a patient to receive care. There is no privacy, no bathroom and none of the equipment, such as oxygen and other apparatus I need to deliver
care, it is absolutely unacceptable. How would you like your loved one to receive care under such conditions? We have made it clear to management that we are encouraging our nurses to refuse to accept such an assignment and to advocate for a safer placement for our patients.”

On Dec. 16, 2008, the management of St. Vincent Hospital informed the MNA local union leadership of their plan to allow patients to be boarded and cared for in hallways and corridors on inpatient units. The MNA informed management of their strong opposition to the practice and their concern for its impact on patient safety. The union has been working for two years to convince hospital management to take appropriate steps, such as adding emergency department staff and other staff, as well as to open rooms to care for overflow patients in the hospital’s busy emergency department. The nurses filed hundreds of reports of unsafe staffing and there have been numerous, serious patient safety incidents that have occurred due to the current conditions.

“We informed management that the hospital was already unsafe, and that by implementing this policy, they were only making things significantly worse for nurses and for patients,” Ritacco said. “We were quite clear that we could no longer remain silent and that if they persisted we would need to go public to inform our community of the risks to public safety posed by this policy.”

For months, the hospital honored the MNA’s request, but last week it moved forward and began designating hallway slots on the inpatient units for hallway patients, and on Tuesday, placed a patient in a hallway. The nurses objected. One of the union leaders informed management that there was space available in one of the other hospital units where the patient could have been more safely cared for, but the hospital refused the request and placed the patient in the hallway.

The hospital also has a 32-bed overflow inpatient unit, with a number of rooms available to accommodate patients admitted from the emergency department, however the hospital is refusing to open those rooms and staff them, even though there are a number of nurses on staff available to provide care, and thousands of nurses in the state looking for work who could provide safe care to these patients. 

MNA Position on Corridor Care

The MNA believes that a plan to address emergency department overcrowding must include the designation of beds in rooms with appropriate staff to care for overflow patients from the emergency department, and that changes must be made in the scheduling of elective surgeries and other practices to better regulate the flow of patients throughout the hospital. These alternatives have been recommended to the hospitals by DPH for seven years, yet the industry has failed to comply. The MNA also believes it is unsafe for emergency department nurses to be responsible for oversight of patients in the hallways of the emergency department. If there is excess patient volume, additional staff must be assigned to care for those patients in appropriately designated rooms.

“We have told them on numerous occasions that those available rooms on the overflow unit could be staffed with nurses and relief could be provided to the emergency department,” Ritacco said. “But they have taken the appalling position of putting their business concerns ahead of their concern for the safety of the patients.”

FPO