CANTON, Mass. – The registered nurses of North Shore Medical Center, who are negotiating a new contract with Partners HealthCare, have submitted the required 10-day notice to conduct an informational picket outside the Salem-based hospital on Wednesday, March 9 from 2 – 4:30 p.m.
The approximately 600 nurses at NSMC, members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United (MNA/NNU), are fighting for improved patient care, better working conditions and a reasonable wage increase. They have actively engaged across the bargaining table for months with hospital executives, seeking a fair agreement.
But contract talks have stalled because nurses say the decision-makers at the highly profitable Partners HealthCare seem to care more about maintaining profit margins than they care about the valuable contributions of staff nurses who contribute 90 percent of patient care at the hospital. Nurses are taking to the sidewalk in front of NSMC at 81 Highland Ave. in Salem on Wednesday to share their concerns with the public.
“Throughout the hospital, nurses have expressed frustration that Partners continues to place its desire for profits ahead of its concern for patients and those who care for them,” said Kathy Schevis, a registered nurse at NSMC and co-chair of the MNA/NNU Local Bargaining Unit at the hospital.
“The public rightfully wants nurses at the bedside 24 hours a day, caring for people at their most vulnerable,” Schevis said. “Yet hospital management disregards the nurses’ proposals that will ensure safe and consistent patient care.”
Patient Care is Key Sticking Point
Despite hearing from many experienced registered nurses, NSMC and Partners HealthCare have refused to agree to proposals nurses believe will improve patient care. These include:
· Staff nurses in charge should not have a patient assignment. A “charge nurse” is responsible for all patients and nurses in their area. If she has a patient assignment, she is not able to effectively supervise and assist other nurses. This nurse should be managing the flow of patients, be on hand to assist less experienced nurses with more complex cases, while also picking up patient assignments when staff become overburdened.
· Limit the amount of times a nurse can float during one shift. Nursing is a specialized health care profession and floating practices in acute care hospitals like NSMC can be dangerous. Floating is used by hospitals to meet their obligations to ensure that all patient care areas are adequately staffed, largely because core nurse staffing has taken a hit as hospitals look to maintain their bottom lines. Nurses believe that floating compromises patient safety and has been linked to nurse dissatisfaction and decreased morale.
“Every time a patient’s nurse changes there are increased risks to patient safety. It's an increased risk for errors to be made,” said Kelli O’Brien, a registered nurse in the birthplace unit at NSMC and co-chair of the MNA/NNU Local Bargaining Unit. “The true answer is improving nurse staffing at the hospital. We are trying to create better conditions for patients and nurses with our contract proposals and it is disappointing that management has rejected our efforts.”
Partners Pays Itself, Not Nurses
For years, NSMC has been affiliated with Partners HealthCare. The Partners system is the most profitable health care employer in the state, posting profits in 2014 alone of more than $120 million, with revenues in excess of $10.9 billion, according to state tax filings. From 2010 to 2014, Partners made more than $1.9 billion in profit.
A non-profit organization like Partners should be investing this fortune in health care for the communities it serves and in the employees who provide that care. Instead, Partners uses its enormous profits to enrich its top executives. The five highest paid Partners executives got a nearly $1.3 million combined pay hike from 2013 to 2014, equaling a 23% increase in salaries.
“It is insulting to think that while Partners executives are luxuriating in multi-million dollar salaries and huge pay hikes, nurses are offered wage increases that would be less than half the rate of inflation,” Schevis said. “We are caretakers. Partners should care for us.”
The hospital’s current wage offer to staff nurses is a 0.5% across-the-board increase or a 1% increase just to the 44% of nurses who are at the top of the NSMC wage scale. This offer is less than the current U.S. inflation rate. This means the cost of items from eggs to automobiles is increasing at a faster clip than the across-the-board wage proposal by Partners.
The parties began negotiations on Sept. 23, 2015 and to date 12 sessions have been held. The contract expired on September 30, 2015 but has been extended through the next session, scheduled for March 23, 2016.