Nurses call for meeting with the CEO to present their concerns; hospital finally agrees to turn over the consultant’s report that underpins the controversial plan
LEOMINSTER, Mass. In an ongoing effort to stop a plan by management to cut nursing and support staff and to reorganize patient care services, the registered nurses of Health Alliance Leominster Hospital will appeal directly to the facility’s CEO in a call to rescind the proposal, which the nurses believe will degrade the quality and safety of care for every patient entering the hospital. Today, a delegation of nurses will hand deliver a petition signed by 233 nurses, nearly 90 percent of the nurses at the hospital, to CEO Deborah Weymouth. The delegation will gather outside the Simonds Building (located directly behind the hospital) on Monday, Sep. 8 at noon after the petition delivery to meet with members of the media who wish to learn more about the issues behind the matter. The full text of the petition can be found at the end of the release.
Health Alliance CEO Deborah Weymouth took over control of the hospital in May. While the nurses have been in negotiations with members of the hospital’s management team over the plan since June, the new CEO has never participated in the negotiations or held any formal meeting with the nurses’ union leadership to hear their concerns. In addition to delivering the petitions on Monday, the nurses are also using the opportunity to present a letter making a formal request for just such a meeting.
According to Natalie M. Pereira, a nurse at the hospital and chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United, “The Health Alliance administration continues to be unresponsive to our concerns about these changes and what they could mean for our patients. We have circulated the petition and will deliver it to Ms. Weymouth to show the depth of opposition within the Leominster Hospital nursing community to this misguided plan and to ask for immediate and real action to avert this crisis. As nurses, we provide 90 percent of the clinical care our patients receive and understand more than anyone else in this system what they need to be safe and receive the care they deserve. As the leader of this organization, we believe our CEO needs to hear what we have to say unfiltered by lower level managers and corporate attorneys.”
The hospital’s plan calls for increasing nurses’ patient assignments from five to six on the hospital’s medical-surgical floor, which research shows increases the risk of death for all those patients by 7 to 14 percent. Management is also proposing cuts to ED staffing, which will mean longer wait times for patients, more boarding of patients, and the likelihood that a patient could suffer a complication because of these delays in care.
Nurses are also concerned about the staff reductions not only of RNs but of support staff in the ED for the care of psychiatric patients. When UMass closed its psychiatric unit at Burbank Hospital in 2010, Leominster promised the DPH and the community that they would increase staff and resources in their emergency department to help care for those experiencing a mental health crisis. While they never fully implemented those changes, Leominster is now undermining the staffing levels that are currently in place, further eroding care for the mentally ill in Northern Worcester County.
The hospital’s plan also calls for the merger of the pediatric, labor and delivery, and maternity units, cutting staff on these units, and expecting nurses who currently specialize in each area to cross train to practice in multiple areas. This proposal goes against what the professional standards for maternity and pediatric care show is best for those patients.
In Response to Unfair Labor Practice Charge, Management Agrees to Share Consultant’s Report
In June, the nurses had filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board over management’s failure to share with the nurses the consultant’s report that management had said was the basis for the plan to cut staff and consolidate services. Two months after that charge was filed, Health Alliance management has finally agreed to share that report with the nurses and will present the report on Monday at 11 a.m.
Regardless of the information contained in that report, the nurses believe there is no justification for any of the proposed changes given the hospital census over the last year, the fact that Health Alliance Leominster Hospital turned a healthy $6.6 million profit in 2013, and that the facility has the best patient outcomes in the UMass system and the lowest rate of preventable readmissions. Other UMass facilities rank near the bottom in the state for patient readmissions, costing the system millions of dollars in penalties from Medicare.
The Leominster RNs have moved forward with a community awareness campaign to tell the public how a planned downsizing of staff at the hospital could hurt medical care for patients. Nurses have distributed lawn signs and store signs throughout the community that read, “Leominster Nurses Say Staffing Cuts Hurt Us All.” They have also been meeting with local legislators and policymakers to educate them about the dangers of the Health Alliance/UMass staffing cuts. “We want the community to know that reduced staffing will force the remaining RNs to take on higher caseloads, and the impact this will have on our patients,” Pereira said.
The attempt to downsize staff and increase patient assignments for nurses at Leominster Hospital is the latest round of staffing cuts by UMass Memorial Health Care, which has been wreaking havoc throughout the entire UMass system. 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; and layoffs of staff and poor patient care conditions at the Marlborough Hospital campus.
“The facts speak for themselves,” Pereira concluded. “Our nurses and our support staff are providing the highest quality care in the UMass system and we are making a profit doing so. Yet, now, UMass is seeking to undermine the quality of care for patients in our community in order to meet their corporate agenda. We won’t let that happen without a fight.”
Below is the full text of the petition:
We, the undersigned registered nurses of Leominster Hospital hereby petition the senior leadership of both Health Alliance and UMass Memorial to express our strong opposition to the recently announced plan by hospital management to cut nursing and support staff, and to reorganize patient care services – a plan the nurses believe will undermine the quality and safety of patient care for every patient entering the hospital. We see this re-organization as a deliberate attempt to cut costs by creating a lesser standard of care for patients as it will force staff to care for more patients at one time, which the medical research shows will increase the risk of injury or harm for patients, cause delays in care, longer hospital stays, and even the increased risk of death for our patients. These changes are being proposed at a time when Leominster Hospital has been a profitable entity and when our outcomes, including preventable readmissions, are the best in the UMass system. We believe our patients deserve quality patient care, and we call upon management to rescind its proposal for the good of our patients and the communities we serve.