News & Events

Cape Cod Hospital RNs to Hold Informational Picket on March 7th, As Contract Talks Stall Over Poor Staffing, Mandatory Overtime and the Layoff of 60 Nurses

HYANNIS, Mass.—Registered nurses at Cape Cod Hospital (CCH) in Hyannis have given official notice to hospital management that they will hold an informational picket outside the entrance to the facility on Tuesday, March 7 from 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. as contract talks continue to stall over the issues of RN staffing levels, mandatory overtime and the planned layoff of 60 nurses at the hospital.

The decision to issue the picket notice came at the end of a negotiating session with a Federal Mediator held at the hospital on Feb. 21. The current contract is set to expire on March 1st. Talks began last July 18, with 23 negotiating sessions held to date.

The key issues in dispute include:

  • The hospital’s refusal to include a contractual guarantee of safe limits on the number of patients a nurse is assigned
  • The hospital’s demand for the right to mandate nurses to work overtime shifts as a means of compensating for the hospital’s chronic staffing shortages
  • The hospital’s demand to have the right to send nurses home without pay on days the hospital deems the nurses are not needed
  • The hospital’s continued demand to lay off 60 nurses who work weekend shifts

“We have no choice but to take our case to the public for their support in convincing management to act responsibly,” said Marilyn Rouette, chair of the MNA bargaining unit at Cape Cod Hospital, which represents more than 650 registered nurses at the hospital. “The public, our patients, have the most to lose in this dispute because, if Cape Cod Hospital has its way, there might not be a nurse when they need one if staffing conditions continue as they are presently.”

In the last year, nurses have filed more than 100 official reports objecting to “unsafe staffing” which they believed “jeopardized the safety of their patients.”

RN staffing ratios at the facility are well below what is recommended to maintain patient safety, and, in fact, nurse staffing levels often don’t even meet the hospital’s own inappropriate staffing guidelines. The hospital had originally acknowledged the problem and had engaged in more than seven months of negotiations with the nurses to develop a more acceptable staffing plan.

After repeatedly stating that they intended to include contract language that would set RN-to-patient ratios, as called for by the nurses, the hospital recently reneged on its promises and instead has taken steps to increase nurses’ patient assignments, a move that has angered the nurses and is compromising the safety of patients.

In addition, the hospital has deliberately left over 100 nursing positions unfilled over the last two years, which has led to an increase in the use of mandatory “forced” overtime, a dangerous practice that the Institute of Medicine recently stated should be prohibited. Now, the hospital administration is demanding the inclusion of contract language that will give them the unbridled right to force nurses to work overtime to cover for staffing shortages, as well as to have nurses work in other areas of the hospital where they are not experienced.

“Their proposals are a recipe for disaster and a prescription for serious problems for patients, who will be cared for (a) by nurses who have too many patients; (b) by nurses who are exhausted from working 16 hours straight; or (c) by nurses who are both exhausted and working in areas where they are not used to working. As nurses, we are personally responsible for the care we deliver. We cannot allow the hospital to place us, and our patients, in this dangerous situation.”

Layoff of 60 Nurses

In addition to refusing to address the nurses staffing concerns, the hospital is proposing to make the situation worse by laying off 60 nurses. The layoff is the result of a decision by management to eliminate a popular and successful weekend staffing plan, which provided nurses who agreed to work weekend shifts with a higher rate of pay. The program was instituted several years ago, specifically to address chronic staffing shortages for weekend shifts.

In announcing the nursing job cuts, the hospital cited financial losses for the first quarter of the year.

The nurses point out that the losses are primarily the result of a series of poor decisions by new management at the hospital, including the inability to retain relationships with key physician groups, which has resulted in a reduction in admissions to the hospital.

The nurses also point to a number of research studies, including one by the hospital industry itself, that shows that hospitals with better staffing ratios are more profitable and have lower costs per patient discharge.

In response to the hospital’s unwise decisions, the nurses have been aggressively mobilizing to educate the public about the issue.

Among the actions being taken by the nurses is a Cape Cod-wide petition drive and leafleting campaign to educate the community that they have the most to lose from the CCH staffing proposals. To date, nurses have collected more than 5,000 signatures from residents of Cape Cod.

"We intend to fight hospital management to the bitter end over this issue," said Marilyn Rouette. "Nurses will be out in shopping centers, post offices, at their kids’ basketball games and dance recitals, at senior centers and anywhere people gather to talk to them about this issue and to have them sign our petition for safe patient care.”