Nurses’ Pay Scale is Inadequate for Recruitment and Retention of Staff to Maintain Quality Care
MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – Registered nurses at Marlborough Hospital will hold an informational picket outside the entrance to the facility on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007 from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Negotiations for a new contract have stalled over differences in salary proposals. The nurses’ pay scale is preventing the recruitment and retention of staff, which the nurses believe will compromise the quality and safety of patient care.
The Marlborough Hospital nurses’ pay scale is among the lowest in the region for community hospitals and trails far behind larger medical centers in Worcester and Boston, at a time when competition for hospital nurses is fierce. Currently, Marlborough Hospital nurses’ pay falls as much as 7 percent below Caritas Norwood Hospital, 11 percent below Newton Wellesley Hospital, 5 percent below MetroWest Medical Center and as much as 15% percent below nurses at sister facilities in the UMass Memorial system. This gap is slated to grow as most of these facilities are in negotiations for new contracts.
“We can’t recruit the staff we need to maintain the care our patients expect, and we are losing nurses to other facilities who are offering significantly better pay,” said Carol Palazzi, the chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit which is represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “While we have fought to maintain appropriate staffing levels in comparison with other facilities in the state, we are in serious danger of compromising our quality of care as more nurses leave and the remaining nurses are forced to care for too many patients.”
More than 175 registered nurses are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association at Marlborough Hospital. They have been negotiating their contract since July 25, 2007, with nine negotiating sessions held to date. The nurses’ contract expired on Sept. 30, 2007, but the parties agreed to extend it until Nov. 3. A federal mediator has been involved in the talks since Sep. 21. Management made what it termed its “last and best” offer on Sep. 28. The union shared the proposal with members at open meetings on Oct. 17 where the nurses’ endorsed a picket to alert the public of their concerns and the impact the dispute could have on the quality of care at Marlborough Hospital.
For Gerri Houde, a critical care nurse at the hospital and a member of the negotiating team, those with the most at stake in the negotiations are the patients she and her colleagues care for, as they are the ones who are suffering the most under the current conditions at the hospital. She is particularly concerned about the inability to provide safe and appropriate staffing levels on the hospital’s busiest medical/surgical floor, where most patients stay.
“While I normally work in the intensive care unit, I often pick up extra shifts on our medical surgical floor, where I have been assigned six patients, which is the norm for that floor. I am a well organized seasoned nurse but when I work on that floor, there are times when no amount of organizational skill or prioritizing can help me deliver the care that my patients deserve. More often than not I have felt my license could be in jeopardy. My feelings are shared by most of the nurses on that floor, who believe the staffing is oftentimes unsafe.”
The lack of staffing and below market wages are taking a toll on staff and leading to high turnover, particularly of new recruits, Houde explained. “I have seen many new faces over the last year alone. One nurse recently left to go to St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester where the pay is much better and they have safer staffing levels written into their contract. I had another newly hired nurse who has been here less than a year tell me she is just waiting for her year to be up so she can move on; that was the night she had six patients and was nearly in tears telling me about the things she could not get to because her assignment was so overwhelming. The bottom line is this: Marlborough Hospital will not attract nurses if the wages are not competitive and they will not retain nurses if nurses can work somewhere else for more money and have safer staffing levels.”
To bring the nurses’ salary in line with other facilities in the region, the nurses are seeking an 11 percent pay hike over two years, while management is offering a 7 percent increase with no pay hike for the first six months of the agreement.
“As nurses, we provide 90 percent of the clinical care patients receive in this hospital. We are the backbone of the hospital, and according to a number of studies, we are the most important factor in keeping patients safe in the hospital,” Palazzi explained. “We are vital to the success of this hospital and all we are asking for is a competitive wage that will allow this hospital to succeed and continue to serve this community.”