The registered nurses working at Nashoba Valley Medical Center (NVMC), and supporters will hold a community rally on Tuesday, March 24 from 5 to 6 p.m. to call attention to the nurses’ concerns over a variety of issues affecting patient care at the hospital. The rally will be held at 39 Main Street in Ayer, just outside of The Billiards Café.
The medical center’s 124 nurses voted to join the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) in July of 2014 in order to have a strong, unified voice when working with the hospital on issues such as how to improve their work environment, how to provide the safest, quality patient care possible, and how to support each other in the very difficult and valuable work they do. In order to formalize the process for achieving such improvements, the NVMC nurses have been attempting to negotiate their first union contract with hospital management. The process has been slow to progress however, and to date the nurses have only been able to meet for four bargaining sessions with the for-profit owners of NVMC, Steward Health Care.
One area of great concern to the NVMC RNs is the low number of staff nurses who are available to care for community members who are admitted to the hospital. To make due, exhausted nurses often work hours beyond their shifts or work extra unscheduled shifts, because vacant nursing positions remain unfilled for very long periods of time. Among the reasons for the staffing shortage are the nurses’ wages, which are approximately 25 percent below the region’s average for hospitals. Abnormally low benefits are also affecting the medical center’s ability to attract and retain nurses.
According to Fran Karaska, RN and co-chair of the MNA bargaining unit at NVMC, “It has been difficult if not impossible to recruit RNs to fill vacant positions. Experienced, acute care RNs can earn much more at all the other hospitals in our region, and a year ago the company announced that employees working less than 30 hours a week would not be eligible for health insurance. Imagine trying to attract someone to work in a hospital, of all places, and telling that person they won’t have health insurance for themselves or their families?”
“The entire community appreciates what these nurses do for us,” said Jeremy Januskiewicz, President of Ayer Fire Fighters Local #2544, IAFF. “They have not only kept our friends, neighbors, and loved ones healthy, but they have also literally saved the lives of many of these people. The staff at the hospital deserves to be treated with respect for what they do, and that respect should come first and foremost from the hospital’s owners.”
Sue Fluet, RN and MNA co-chair at NVMC, also commented of the important relationship between the community and the hospital. “We are holding this rally because the community needs to help protect this hospital. We have to make sure it is here in the future, and that it remains healthy and that we are capable of providing great care.”
“We love what we do and we love this hospital,” added RN Cindy Bjork. “That is why we feel it is so important to rally community support for NVMC — for our neighbors, and for the really great caregivers who work here.”
Rally attendees and supporters are invited to join the nurses for refreshments and camaraderie inside The Billiards Café immediately following the event.