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Nurses and Health Care Professionals Honor Veterans

Nurses and Health Care Professionals Honor Veterans
Demand Romney and Healey to Show Respect for Veterans and Those Who Care for Them

HOLYOKE, Mass.—Registered nurses and other health care professionals held a press conference today at the entrance of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home to honor the contributions of veterans and to tell the governor and lieutenant governor about the dangerous condition of patient care in the state’s Soldiers’ Homes, mental health and public health hospitals, and other institutions.

The Soldiers’ Home RNs and other health care professionals represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) have been without a contract for 865 days. According to Irene Patch, an RN and a local officer of her MNA bargaining unit at the Soldiers’ Home, “Veterans Day provides an opportunity to come together to celebrate veterans and the sacrifices they made during their service to our country. Our patients and residents put their lives on the line in defense of our nation. It is a privilege for us to serve and care for them each day,” said Patch. “But it is increasingly difficult to deliver the care they deserve due to the existing contract situation.”

The difficulty is primarily due to the inability to retain and recruit experienced staff because of the sub-standard wages. Nurses at these facilities are paid substantially less than other nurses in the Pioneer Valley.

The nurses and other health care professionals are part of the state’s Unit 7 bargaining unit, which is comprised of 1,800 registered nurses, physicians, pharmacists, psychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, dentists, speech and hearing therapists, and podiatrists. They work in Soldiers’ Homes for disabled veterans; state hospitals for the mentally ill; and residential facilities for mentally retarded adults. They also work at centers for HIV and drug-affected mothers and children; group homes for those who cannot live independently; and high-security wards for violent adolescents or suicidal/homicidal residents, mentally ill prisoners, and clients sent for pre-trial evaluations.

Negotiations between the Romney administration and Unit 7 began on July 23, 2004. The administration came to the table with more than 100 proposals to cut benefits, and a separate proposal that included almost no pay increase. The administration has also sought to strip the nurses and health professionals of all their rights to have input on staffing conditions at the facilities. According to recent surveys, staffing levels are dangerously low—which severely compromises the quality and safety of care in the state’s facilities.

“Governor Romney and Lt. Governor Healey seem to be more interested in their respective campaigns for president and governor than they are in providing quality care to the veterans we serve,” said Patch. “Today, we are calling on Governor Romney and Lt. Governor Healey to pay more attention to the home fires, to get involved in these negotiations, and to get the job done. The veterans we care for are suffering, because below-market wages prevent the state from retaining and recruiting the staff needed to deliver appropriate care.”

Patch ended by saying, “We come here to honor these veterans who have fought for us and to tell the governor we will fight for them.”