The registered nurses of Newton Wellesley Hospital, who are negotiating a new contract with Partners HealthCare, have scheduled a vote by the membership on Wednesday, June 10 to authorize a one-day strike to protest efforts by Partners to boost its multi-million dollar profits margin by cutting patients’ access to appropriate nursing care.
According to the nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, contract talks have stalled as Partners has decreased core RN staffing levels on a number of floors and increased the floating of nurses to cover for staffing shortages -- a dangerous plan that is creating unsafe patient assignments for nurses, while also depriving patients of the specialized care they need to be safe during their hospital stay. The nurses’ concerns about patient care have increased in recent months, as the hospital has already implemented dangerous cuts to RN staffing in the emergency department, while cutting staff and services for mothers and newborns in the hospital’s busy maternity unit.
The NWH nurses are outraged by the hospital’s lack of effort to negotiate a fair settlement with the nurses in light of the fact that Partners HealthCare is the most profitable health care system in the state, if not all of New England, having generated more than $9 billion in revenues and having posted profits of more than $600 million. NWH alone has generated profits over more than $11 million in the first two quarters of this year, and will make a $24 million profit for fiscal year 2015 – a 30 percent increase in profits over the previous year.
The strike authorization vote has been scheduled to take place throughout the day and into the evening on Wednesday, June 10. Nurses will cast their vote by secret ballot at the Wellesley Community Center, which is located at 219 Washington St. in Wellesley Hills. Voting will take place from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The vote does not mean the nurses will strike immediately. It gives the negotiating committee the authorization to call a one-day strike if and when they feel it is necessary. Once the committee issues its official notice to strike, the hospital will then have 10 days before the nurses will go out on strike.
“No nurse wants to strike, but we have no other option as Partners’ management continues to refuse to heed our concerns for the safety of our patients and the dignity of our nurses in the wake of unprecedented and unwarranted cuts to RN staffing levels and their plans to further cut staff in the years to come,” said Laurie Andersen, co-chair of the MNA Local Bargaining Unit and a nurse in the emergency department at the hospital. “We are taking this vote and contemplating a one-day strike as a protest against these practices and to educate the public about how the issues at stake in these negotiations impact the quality and safety of their hospital care.”
Staffing/Floating is Key Sticking Point
As an alternative to having patient care units fully staffed with nurses experienced to care for patients in those areas, Partners is demanding the right to further cut core staffing levels on a number of units while increasing the number of nurses who “float” from one area of the medical center to another where they may be unfamiliar with the specific patient conditions, the equipment or procedures on that unit, and as result, may not be able to provide appropriate care.
“The most important factor determining your safety during a hospital stay is the time and attention you receive from your registered nurses -- nurses who are experienced in providing the specialized care your condition requires,” Andersen explained. “Hospitals are not factories, patients are not widgets and nurses are not interchangeable parts. Management’s floating plan fails to acknowledge that nursing, like medicine, is highly specialized and no nurse should be forced to care for patients unless he or she is qualified and properly trained to care for those patients.”
Partners Seeks Cut to the Nurses’ Benefits
Adding insult to injury, in addition to cutting staffing and compromising the ability of nurses to provide quality care, the hospital is also seeking to cut nurses’ benefits, while offering the majority of the most experienced nurses a mere 1 percent pay increase, well below the cost of living.
Specifically, the hospital is seeking to increase the nurses’ contribution for their health insurance benefit, while also cutting the nurses vacation time benefit. In fact, the hospital has been regularly denying nurses earned time off requests for the summer months. Partners also seeks to cut nurses’ overtime premium pay benefit, taking away the current time and one-half pay rate for at least 30 minutes following the end of the nurses’ regularly scheduled shift. Nurses believe this change would lead to an effort to force nurses to work longer, when medical research shows exhausted nurses cannot provide safe patient care.
These changes are being proposed at a time when Newton Wellesley Hospital posted profits in excess of $18 million last year and is on pace to make more than $24 million this year, and when Partners HealthCare, the corporate owner of our hospital, recorded profits of more than $600 million.
“There is no justification for management’s positions in these negotiations,” Andersen explained. “They are making enormous profits, and they are doing it on the backs of the nurses and other caregivers who work so hard to make this hospital a success. Our patients and our nurses shouldn’t be shortchanged to satisfy Partner’s corporate greed.”
The parties began negotiations on August 25, 2014 and to date 15 sessions have been held. The contract expired on Sept. 30, 2014 but has been extended through the next session, which is scheduled for June 12, when a federal mediator will be present. More than 900 registered nurses are represented by the MNA at NWH.
“We have been trying to convince the hospital to be fair to the nurses and to our patients,” said Andersen. “Now we are appealing directly to the public for their support to ensure that Partners puts patients before profits, and the care of this community ahead of its concern for the corporate bottom line.”