News & Events

Faulkner Hospital RNs Will Hold Informational Picketing on March 29th Over Staffing Conditions, Salary and Pension Issues

To compensate for inadequate staffing, the hospital regularly transfers nurses to work in areas where they are not qualified to safely care for patients

JAMAICA PLAIN, Mass. – Registered nurses (RNs) at Faulkner Hospital in Jamaica Plain will conduct informational picketing outside the entrance to the facility on March 29, 2004 from 6 a.m. – 7 p.m., to draw attention to key issues in dispute in stalled contract talks with management that the nurses believe impact their ability to deliver safe care to patients at the facility.

More than 300 registered nurses are represented by Massachusetts Nurses Association at Faulkner Hospital. They have been negotiating their contact since last October with 13 sessions held to date, and the last five sessions before a federal mediator. The key issues in dispute include the need to provide full staffing at the facility and, as a result, to end the dangerous practice of forcing nurses to be transferred to areas where they are not qualified to safely care for patients; the call for a salary level on a par with other Partners-owned facilities, and improvements in the nurses’ pension plan and health insurance benefits.

“The public has a right to know that this hospital is failing to provide appropriate or even safe patient care on a daily basis,” said Kathy Glennon, RN, chair of the nurses’ bargaining unit at the facility and a nurse in the ICU. “Instead of hiring enough staff to safely operate this hospital, management is attempting to save money by moving nurses from one area to another as if they were interchangeable parts. This 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.”

This practice is known as “floating” and the nurses at Faulkner report that medical/surgical nurses are regularly floated to work in such highly specialized areas as intensive care units or telemetry units, where patients are hooked up to monitors and other sophisticated technology. “We have nurses floated to these areas with no training or understanding of how to read the monitors. It’s a recipe for disaster,” Glennon said.

The nurses report that newly graduated nurses with just three months of nursing experience have been floated to such areas, jeopardizing the care of the patients in these areas and placing those nurses at greater risk of making errors that could cost them their license to practice.

The nurses’ position on this issue has been validated recently with the release of a groundbreaking report by the Institute of Medicine, which issued a scathing report concerning the dangers of understaffing in our nation’s hospitals. The report cited studies that show that patients who are cared for in intensive care units where “float” nurses practiced were significantly more likely to experience a serious, life-threatening infection. The issue was so serious that in 1998 the Centers for Disease Control issued a nationwide warning to hospitals against the practice.

To address the problem, the Faulkner nurses have language on the table that would prevent a nurse from being forced to float to another unit unless and until he or she had the qualifications and competency to practice in that area. This language has already been adopted at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, which is an affiliate of Faulkner Hospital.

“We can only wonder why patients at Faulkner Hospital are not provided the same level of safety as those at our sister facility,” Glennon said. “Partners seems to want to treat both the nurses and the patients at Faulkner as second class citizens.”

This “second class” approach to dealing with nurses at Faulkner is further reflected in the dramatically lower salaries of the nurses at Faulkner compared to all other Partners facilities. The nurses at Faulkner are paid 26% below their counterparts at Brigham & Women’s hospital, and 13% below the nurses at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

The poor pay, combined with the poor working conditions, is resulting in the flight of nurses from the facility and the inability of the hospital to keep nurses they do recruit.

Glennon reported on a program created at Faulkner to train operating room nurses. Over the last few years, out of eleven nurses who were recruited into this program, only three remain. She also points to the hospital’s granting of $3,000 sign-on bonuses to new recruits to the operating room. As soon as these nurses meet their minimum requirements for these programs, they are gone the very next day. Where are they going? Many of them head down the street to better paying Partners facilities.

The nurses are outraged and discouraged by such practices, especially when they read in the local press about Partners Health Care reporting a record $28 million profits in the last quarter.

“It is a disgrace to see this corporation reaping millions of dollars in profits on the backs of nurses and through the suffering of patients who are provided substandard care at the expense of the bottom line.”

The next negotiating session will take place on April 6th. The nurses hope that public pressure from the picketing and other activities will move the process to an equitable resolution. If not, the nurses are entertaining moving to a strike authorization vote.

“The public needs to know that their health and safety is at stake in this process, and we nurses cannot allow the current conditions to continue,” said Glennon.