News & Events

Karen Higgins Elected President of Massachusetts Nurses Association

Karen Higgins, RN, a resident of Weymouth and a critical care nurse at Boston Medical Center, has been elected president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. The MNA, with more than 20,000 members, is the largest association of registered nurses and health care professionals and the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Higgins, who is the 36th president in the MNA’s 98-year history, will serve a two-year term of office. She brings more than 25 years experience in nursing and as many years of service to MNA to her position as MNA president. Higgins holds a diploma in nursing from Quincy Hospital School of Nursing and an associates in nursing from Quincy Junior College.

Higgins has spent her entire nursing career as a front-line caregiver and staff nurse at Boston Medical Center, where she began her career in 1975. She currently works in Boston Medical Center’s Cardiac Care/Intensive Care Unit.

An outspoken critic of the current health care system and its impact on nurses and patients, Higgins brings a wealth of experience as a leader and spokesperson within the MNA on a variety of issues. For the last five years, Higgins was the elected leader of the MNA’s Cabinet for Labor Relations, the union of the MNA, where she directed activities for more than 85 MNA local bargaining units throughout the state. During her tenure as head of the MNA union, Higgins oversaw a number of successful union organizing drives, resulting in eight elections for MNA representation, including victories at Somerville Hospital, St. Vincent Hospital and Certified Nursing Services in Worcester, Northeast Health Systems in Beverly, VNA Hospice Alliance in Western Mass., Worcester Public Health Nurses Association, and U. Mass. Memorial Health Care. This included the MNA’s first organizing foray outside of the state, where the MNA organized nurses at Valley Regional Health Care, a hospital and home health agency in Claremont, New Hampshire.

Higgins also helped manage two highly successful strikes at St. Vincent Hospital and Brockton Hospital, which brought the issues of mandatory overtime and safe staffing to national attention.

For that same time period, Higgins co-chaired the MNA’s Statewide Campaign for Safe Care Steering Committee, a leadership body that oversaw a statewide public relations and legislative action campaign to improve nurse staffing and increase patient’s access to nursing care, as well as mobilized a statewide effort by the nursing community to pressure the Board of Registration of Nursing to improve its treatment of front-line nurses, while holding nursing administrators to greater accountability for their decisions.

In response to the burgeoning nursing shortage, Higgins led MNA efforts to address the issue by promoting the creation of, and then chairing, the MNA Nursing Shortage Task Force. The group was one of the first in the nursing community to prepare comprehensive, multi-pronged agenda to address the nursing shortage. She also was responsible for the formation of the MNA’s Task Force on Workplace Violence, a group that has drawn state and national attention to this issue.

Finally, Higgins was a driving force behind MNA efforts to disaffiliate from the American Nurses Association in order to pursue an independent, more progressive agenda to address the crisis faced by nurses today.

According to MNA Executive Director Julie Pinkham, "Karen’s greatest strength is her experience in the trenches on the front-lines of health care. She has a first hand understanding of the issues nurses face every day, and has never failed to bring that experience and understanding to her work as a leader and advocate for her profession. She has instant credibility, be it with her fellow nurses, legislators, the media, or the public, because it is clear she is speaking from her own personal experience on these crucial issues."

Among her priorities, Higgins is clear that passage of legislation to mandate safe registered nurse-to-patient ratios in our health care facilities is the overriding concern of the MNA membership, as well as the entire nursing community. The MNA has filed and is promoting passage of HB 1186, An Act to Ensure Sufficient Nurse Staffing for Safe Patient Care.

"When you talk about the problems confronting health care today, be it ER diversions, the nursing shortage, the rise in preventable medical errors, mandatory overtime, they all come down to one root cause—inadequate staffing, specifically, unsafe registered nurse-to-patient ratios that compromise patient care and drive nurses out of the profession," Higgins said.

"Unless and until nurses can practice their profession safely, we will continue to see a rapid deterioration in the quality of patient care and a continued exodus of nurses from the bedside. We must fix this problem, and the MNA is committed to using all of its resources to making that happen."

Higgins will also take charge of a newly constituted MNA which, as an independent organization, is embarking on efforts to work with other like-minded nurse’s associations and unions to create a new national nursing entity that will provide a strong and progressive national voice for nurses across the country. Work is underway to form a new national nurse’s organization, including the MNA, the California Nurses Association, Maine State Nurses Association and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.

"One of my goals for my first term is to help establish a new national nurse’s organization that is responsive to the needs of front-line staff nurses and those that support them in that role, a national organization that is committed to a progressive agenda to confront the health care and insurance industries so that nurses all across this country can practice safely with dignity and respect."