2011 News

MNA decries leadership at UMass Memorial Health Care for boasting of record profits after cutting care and services

01.15.2011

The MNA recently issued a statement condemning management at UMass Memorial Health Care for its misguided decisions that are negatively affecting the quality of patient care within the health care network. The statement came after the UMass system posted record profits of more than $85 million for 2010—an amount that has rattled the network’s 2,500 MNA nurses given that “profitability” has been one of reasons management has used to justify its poor decision making.

Specifically, the nurses’ statement cited:

  • The closure of a 28-bed medical surgical floor in October at its UMass Memorial hospital campus, at a time when patients are regularly forced to wait hours for care in the hallways of the systems’ emergency rooms
  • The planned closure of a 15-bed psychiatric unit at Burbank Hospital, which will leave hundreds of severely mentally ill patients without access to appropriate care, while overburdening the entire mental health care system for the region
  • A demand last fall to cut home care nurses’ salaries by 10 percent, while making veiled threats to close the home care service because it wasn’t “profitable”
  • The layoff of dozens of employees who deliver care to patients, which has forced existing staff to work shorthanded, and patient care to be delayed or compromised
  • Its practice of spending several thousand dollars to hire high-priced models at shopping malls to solicit candidates for bone marrow testing, which the state of New Hampshire is investigating for potential criminal violations of insurance and consumer laws.

“Nurses, who are working harder and faster under increasingly strenuous conditions, are appalled at the behavior of our administration,” said Kathie Logan, a member of the MNA Board of Directors and chair of the local bargaining unit for the University Hospital campus of UMass Memorial. “They have been boasting of record profits that have been made at the expense of the safety of patients.”

”How can an organization that calls itself a non-profit get away with posting $165 million in profits over the last two years, while they are closing services and beds that our patients desperately need?” said Colleen Wolfe, a member of the MNA Board of Directors and a nurse at the Memorial Hospital campus of UMass Memorial. “There are no words to describe the disgust nurses at our hospital feel when they learn that this system is spending thousands of dollars to hire models to patrol shopping malls, while closing desperately needed acute care beds.”

“Every week, our hospital issues an alert to all staff because there aren’t enough beds to take care of patients, leaving patients languishing in hallways waiting for care, yet they have closed one of our medical/surgical units on the cusp of the flu season,” said Lynne Starbard, chair of the MNA local bargaining unit at UMass Memorial. “I’m quite sure our patients aren’t getting a break on their insurance bill for their care in hallways. It’s nothing short of disgraceful.”

MNA Executive Director Julie Pinkham points to UMass as just another example of the unbridled arrogance of the health care industry in Massachusetts, where large health care systems engage in misguided management practices borrowed from other industries to boost profits. For example, UMass CEO John O’Brien has touted the system’s adoption of “Six Sigma” and “Lean Manufacturing,” the latest management fads being touted by high-priced health care consultants.

“At a time of economic crisis for most residents of Massachusetts, many health care providers are making enormous profits, while neglecting their core mission, which is to provide high quality care to the communities they serve,” Pinkham explained. “We want to know, where is the Board of Trustees in this process? Whose job it is to monitor the behavior and practices of these administrators? The application of production methods and manufacturing strategies originally developed for automakers and consumer products to the care of patients is inappropriate and dangerous. The system is out of control, and nurses are not going to remain silent while our patients suffer. In a factory, if you make a mistake, there is recall. In health care, there’s a funeral.”

 

Closings at hospital belie bottom line

UMass Memorial plans the closing of the psych facility at its Burbank Campus. Like its recently announced plans to lay off many staff and close some in-patient units, this reduction is not done by a hospital that is losing money hand over fist. Look at the new buildings you see rising at the UMass campus. And it is not simply because in-patient units are underutilized. At the UMass campus, emergency room patients are lining the corridors and hallways waiting for hours due to a lack of in-patient beds.

But they are closing units there, too?

These closings seem to be a business decision by the hospital administration based primarily on the bottom line, not on concern for the public’s health needs. State Rep. Stephen DiNatale of Fitchburg pointed this out at the hearing. As a retired registered nurse, I agree with state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan and Donna Kelly- Williams, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, that the ER is no place for mental health patients to linger for days waiting for a psychiatric bed — somewhere. This is not fair to the patient, the staff of the ER, or the other patients in the ER. The ER is fundamentally a medical unit, not a psych unit.

UMass Memorial should think again about how it wants to be seen by the communities it serves.

— Joan Pflug, RN

This letter appeared in the Worcester Telegram on Dec. 10.

FPO