News & Events

1001 Days without a Contract

Nurses and Health Care Professionals Picket Statewide

Massachusetts’ most vulnerable patients are threatened by Romney/Healey disrespect of the state’s RNs and health professionals

CANTON, MA—Yesterday, March 26th, marked day 1000 that state-employed registered nurses and health professionals have gone without a contract, a situation that is preventing the recruitment and retention of the professional staff needed to adequately care for the state’s most vulnerable residents, including the severely mentally ill, mentally retarded and disabled veterans.

In response to this inglorious anniversary the 1,800 members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association Unit 7 today are staging informational picketing across the state. According to Bill Fyfe, RN, and president of the MNA’s Unit 7, they are picketing today to show frustration over the lack of respect being shown to his members and their patients, “While we continue to be amazed at how long the Romney/Healey administration has dragged this out, we are truly disheartened and angry by the negative effects it is having on our patients. Every day we see experienced nurses leaving and the problems our administrators are having in hiring new experienced staff. This directly affects the quality of care.”

“After a thousand days of either no, or half hearted negotiations, we have to wonder if the Romney Healey administration is truly committed to providing care to the state’s most vulnerable patients,” said Fyfe. It is clear to us that Governor Romney is more interested in traveling the country to curry favor with voters in his bid for the White House, and Lt. Governor Healey will spend her time campaigning for the corner office rather than paying attention to the care of the veterans, severely mentally ill and retarded, the patients we care for every day.”

State-employed health professionals include 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; residential facilities for mentally retarded adults. They also work at centers for HIV and drug-affected mothers and children; group homes for those cannot live independently; and high-security wards for violent adolescents or suicidal/homicidal residents, mentally ill prisoners, and clients sent for pre-trial evaluations.

“We are the safety net for the state’s most troubled and helpless citizens, we’re the last stop, and without our care and services, many of these people would end up homeless and many would die,” said Fyfe. “The Governor’s treatment of the state’s caregivers represents the shredding of the state’s safety net. We will not allow him to continue his campaign for personal gain without waging our own campaign for respect and decency for ourselves and for those truly in need.”

Negotiations between the Romney administration and the health professionals began on July 23, 2004. The administration came to the table with more than 100 proposals to cut benefits and no pay increase. “The most recent proposal from the state could be viewed as a step forward but we feel it was extremely problematic in two ways. First, their plan divides out bargaining unit and the proposed raise does not go far enough in addressing the problems with retention and recruiting.. We go back to the table tomorrow and hope to come away with an equitable contract,” said Fyfe.

Poor Care Statewide Due to Staffing Shortages
The MNA’s claims of poor care are supported by hundreds of official reports of unsafe staffing submitted by professionals at a number of the state’s facilities in recent years. This includes the results of recent surveys of staff in a number of state facilities for the mentally ill and mentally retarded. Surveys at two of the state’s largest mental health hospitals, Taunton State Hospital (TSH) and Worcester State Hospital (WSH) had the following alarming results:

  • 97 percent of the professional staff at TSH and 96 percent of the staff at WSH reported that their units were dangerously understaffed some or most of the time.
  • 95 percent of the staff at TSH and 89 percent of the staff at WSH reported that staffing levels have been chronically inadequate for the past two years.
  • 89 percent of the TSH professionals and 77 percent of the WSH staff believe current working conditions force them to provide a level of care below their professional standards.
  • 100 percent of the TSH professionals and 81 percent of the WSH professionals reported they lack the sufficient time to prove the level of care their patients require.

Survey results were even more alarming for two residential facilities that specialize in the care of the profoundly mentally retarded?Wrentham Developmental Center and Templeton Developmental Center.

  • 100 percent of the registered nurses and professionals at Templeton and 69 percent of registered nurses and professionals at Wrentham believe their facility is dangerously understaffed some or most of the time.
  • 89 percent of the staff at Wrentham and 80 percent of the staff at Templeton reported an increase in medical errors due to understaffing.
  • 89 percent of the Wrentham professionals and 75 percent of the Templeton professionals reported that current working conditions force them to provide a level of care below their professional standards.
  • And in both surveys, nearly 75 percent of the professionals report they are seriously considering leaving.

“We can no longer allow people with severe mental illness and disability to continue to receive a diminished level of care in an under-funded system,” Fyfe concluded. “It is our ethical and professional obligation to advocate for our patients and that is what we intend to do.”