News & Events

Read the Media Coverage of MNA’s Ambulance Caravan Success

Safe Staffing Petition Drive Gathers 80,000 Signatures

News Coverage of MNA’s Ambulance Caravan
Drive to the State House with Safe Staffing Petitions

 The headline under a photo in Friday, May 10th’s Boston Herald that reads "Nurses Make House Call", and tells the story of yesterday’s highly successful and groundbreaking delivery of nearly 80,000 signatures, which were carried via ambulance to the State House by Massachusetts nurses. The event culminated a week-long petition drive organized by the MNA, with support from the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, which sought and won broad public endorsement for legislation regulating registered nurse to patient ratios in Massachusetts Health Care facilities. The success of the petition drive demonstrates that nurses are not alone in calling for this legislation – patients, who have the most to lose under current conditions, clearly understand that nurses are the key to quality care.

The MNA is thankful for all the efforts of nurses and citizens who joined in this drive. We also would like to acknowledge the participation of those legislators who greeted the ambulance delivery at the State House. This includes State Rep. Christine Canavan, RN (who accepted the petitions on behalf of the
legislature), as well as State Senator Brian Joyce, Senator Bruce Tarr, State Rep. Bob Spellane, State Rep. Joseph Wagner, State Rep. William Galvin, State Rep. John Fresolo, State Rep. Bob Fennell, and State Rep. Paul Loscocco

In addition to news coverage of the MNA Ambulance Caravan Drive in the Boston Herald and the North and South Shore editions of  the Boston Globe, the event was also covered by the Eagle Statehouse Bureau, the Springfield Union News, and the MetroWest Daily with the following stories:

Nurses rally for higher staffing
By Michelle Hillman
Friday, May 10, 2002

Robin DiDonato and nurses like her remember days long gone when they were able to bathe patients and wash their hair, take extra time to listen to their worries and catch problems before they turned into crises.

In short, they could do what they were trained to do – provide compassionate care in a safe environment.

DiDonato, a Marlborough resident and nurse at UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester, yesterday said those comforts are luxuries in a system in which nurses say they care for more patients than can be safety handled.

"Now you’re running from room to room putting out fires," she said. "It’s a very scary place. It’s not only a scary place for patients it’s a scary place for nurses."

Yesterday, nurses from across the state converged at the State House to deliver petitions signed by 75,000 people supporting legislation calling for ratios mandating a minimum number of nurses based on the number of patients.

The petitions were brought by ambulance to the State House steps where 30 to 40 nurses gathered with signs and stickers reading "Registered Nurses: The key to Quality Care."

Nurses across the state say they face the same dire circumstances. Their day consists of prioritizing and crisis management, leaving little time for human interaction.

Caring for seven to 10 patients at a time, nurses fear they are unintentionally putting patients and their licenses at risk, said Karen Higgins, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

"It’s not easy to practice in this environment," said Higgins. "You see the medical errors going up. It’s not that they’re sloppy it’s that they’re running too fast."

Connie Hunter, a nurse at Newton-Wellesley Hospital for 25 years, said she believes staffing ratios would ensure better care. A nurse on a psychiatric unit, Hunter said she has just 10 to 15 minutes to assess and treat patients.

"If you had more nurses people would be taken care of and assessed and seen on a more timely basis," said Hunter, co-chairman of her union’s bargaining team.

Some nurses leave their jobs because they believe the working environment is too dangerous. Others, like DiDonato and Hunter stay in the profession because they care about their patients and they want to see things change.

The MNA, which filed the Quality Patient Care/Safe Staffing Legislation, believes unsafe working conditions have created the nursing shortage. The MNA claims nurses would stay in the profession and even return if they believe the staffing levels would change.

Higgins said this is the seventh year the MNA has supported legislation calling for mandated nurse-to-patient ratios. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Christine Canavan, D-Brockton, and Sen. Robert Creedon, D-Brockton.

"There’s a lot of nurses who are licensed who have left," said Canavan. "If you don’t make their working conditions better, they won’t stay."

Nurses believe the legislation is necessary to force hospitals to staff adequately. Those opposing the bill, like the Massachusetts Organization of Nurse Executives, believe staffing should be decided based on how sick patients are and what type of care they need by those who know best.

"The issue is that Massachusetts has to be able to deliver the best health care," said Maureen Banks Gould, president of MONE. "That’s done not through a cookie-cutter regulation that makes every patient and every hospital the same."

Higgins said legislating staffing levels will improve patient safety and guarantee safe environments for nurses.

"Our goal is, if your are a patient in a hospital you will be safe," she said.

Nurses wield petitions in ‘Safe Staffing’ fight
Friday, May 10, 2002

It was a cool, cloudy morning with a bit of a light rain in the air. A group of about 35 nurses and observers stood in the Providence Hospital parking lot as an ambulance pulled into view.

But the cargo inside wasn’t a patient; it was a sign of frustration.

Ambulances criss-crossed Massachusetts to pick up signatures on a petition in support of the "Safe Staffing" bill and carry them to Beacon Hill. House bill 1186 would set minimum staffing levels that would be required to take care of different number of patients on various types of nursing wards.

According to Massachusetts Nursing Association spokesman David Schildmeier, nurses collected 75,000 signatures in one week.

"It was the most amazing experience," said Patricia E. Healey of Northampton, a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. "People took the petition right out of my hand and signed it. I signed up 450 people myself."

The petition also gained the support of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, which has joined with the nurses’ association to advocate for better health care statewide.

"Seniors will not be silent while nurses fight to make hospitals and nursing homes safer for patients," said the council’s Isaac BenEzra of Amherst.

Schildmeier said the petitions will be copied and distributed to key members of the state House and Senate.

(c) 2002 UNION-NEWS. Used with permission.

Registered nurses piled petitions atop a medical mannequin at protest in front of the Statehouse in Boston yesterday. 
Nurses rally for staffing law
By Erik Arvidson
Eagle Statehouse Bureau

BOSTON Wheeling a stretcher carrying 75,000 signatures from residents across the state, registered nurses staged a rally at the Statehouse yesterday advocating for minimum nurse staffing rules.
Saying that many registered nurses are overburdened with too many patients to care for and mandatory overtime, the nurses lobbied for passage of a law that would require health care facilities to keep minimum nurse-to-patient ratios.

Bill stalled

Judybeth Crowell, a registered nurse at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, delivered more than 1,000 signatures from people in Pittsfield supporting the bill, which is now stalled in committee.

Crowell said that while nurse staffing at BMC is not bad, some hospitals assign nurses to care for eight to 10 patients, and force nurses to work 16 hours at a time. This has resulted in nurses fleeing the profession, and in some cases in patients not receiving appropriate health care, leading to complications and increased costs to hospitals, she said.

Many nurses feel its just not worth it to put their life on the line, Crowell said. They want a job that theyll be able to take pride in. Were not working in a widget factory.

She added, If this bill is passed, registered nurses will come back. People who were afraid will come back to the bedside. This will make it a more attractive career for young people.

The bill, filed by Rep. Christine Canavan, D-Brockton, and sponsored by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, would create a commission of nurses and other health professionals to establish a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio for each area of a hospital.

Hospital units where the patients level of care is more demanding, such as intensive care units, will have fewer patients assigned to each nurse.

In addition, the bill would create an acuity system where nurses could be assigned to patients according to the needs of those patients. This would eliminate floating, where nurses are reassigned to different units even if they have no training or experience in a certain area, supporters say.

Crowell said the bill would help save hospitals money because it would mean patients will receive better care and have fewer complications when they leave the hospital.

If you go in and have a gallbladder operation and you end up having pneumonia, its not a complication that insurance payers will cover, and the hospitals end up eating the cost, Crowell said.

Crowell added that many of the people who signed the petition were seniors who have had experiences with waiting for health care at local providers. They’d come right up and sign the petition without us even asking, Crowell said.

Opponents of the bill say it would create a one size fits all approach to nurse staffing, which would be the same regardless of the size of the hospital.

The issue of it being regulated by a cookie-cutter formula could actually be dangerous for patients, said Maureen Banks Gould, president of the Massachusetts Association of Nurse Executives. [Staffing decisions] are driven by the fact that every patient has to have the best nursing care.

Gould said a minimum staffing law does not take into account that in a single day, five hospital beds might be occupied by 10 different patients needing different levels of care, and that patients conditions change.

The people who are delivering the care, the nurses at the bedside, with the nurses who control the resources within the hospitals, are the best people to judge at that hour of the day who provides the safest care for the patient, Gould said. To regulate it moves it away from the people who can do the on-the-spot assessment and know whats really needed.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association argued that hospitals, in response to shrinking payments from Medicare, Medicaid and HMOs, have reacted by laying off nurses instead of fighting for payments that cover the cost of care. Declining revenues have forced hospitals to close fully or shut down certain units, causing nurses to be laid off.