News & Events

Superb Letter to the Editor Outlines Why North Adams Regional Hospital Nurses Are Standing Firm in Contract Talks

NARH offers unsafe proposals

To the Editor:

Posted: 07/06/2010 03:04:41 AM EDT

Tuesday July 6, 2010

Here we go again, contentious contract talks between North Adams Regional Hospital and the Massachusetts Nurses Association. Same old, same old, right?

Wrong. That’s what I thought too until I read the hospital proposals which would harm the working conditions of the R.N.s and threaten safe patient care.

Mandatory overtime seems to be their biggest issue, since it pops up several times in their proposals. Current contract language prevents NARH from mandating a nurse to stay more than two hours past her shift, unless she states she is fatigued or ill and cannot stay. The hospital would eliminate this, as well as the statement that NARH "will not use mandated OT for R.N.s as a system for staffing the hospital." In other words, the hospital would like to be able to use mandatory OT at will.

So what does that mean to you the health care consumer? Would you like to be the patient of a nurse who at 6:30 a.m. is into her 16th hour, who’s been up for over 24 hours straight? Didn’t think so.

The hospital has also proposed eliminating overtime pay for any hours worked past 8 hours in a day (or 12 hours for those who work 12 hour shifts). This is not a money issue so much as a back-door attempt to impose mandatory overtime, in case they lose the above-mentioned issue. How’s that? If they are not paying overtime pay, then it’s not overtime, and they could mandate a nurse to stay another 8 hours.

Would you feel safe at 11 p.m. knowing your now-exhausted day shift nurse has been working 16 hours straight?

Management would like to right to ignore posted work schedules, to be able to cancel shifts, to mandate extra shifts, to change the hours of a shift or shorten them, to mandate staff to come in early or stay late. Who would be able to plan their lives and child care when they essentially would be on call 24/7, subject to the whim of the hospital?

Suppose the hospital calls a day shift nurse at 2 a.m. and mandates her to come in at 3 a.m. and work 12 hours. She’s had three hours of sleep. Is that safe? What happens to the 3-11 p.m. shift nurse who is told at 11 p.m. she has to stay till 7 a.m. and she has young children to take care of, so she can’t even sleep when she gets home in the morning?

Suppose a pregnant nurse gets mandated to stay past her shift, even though she shouldn’t be on her feet for 16 hours, possibly risking a miscarriage? What about a nurse with health problems, let’s say diabetes, for whom staying over would mess up her blood sugar and possibly impact her job performance?

I did not make up any of these scenarios. They happened before we got the "no mandatory overtime" clause in our contract.

Why does this matter to you, the health care consumer?

If NARH is allowed once again to use mandatory OT to staff the hospital, patient care would suffer. Studies have shown that the use of mandatory overtime actually makes staffing problems worse. Nurses would be less willing to sign up for extra shifts if there is the possibility of being mandated to stay longer. Nurses would get burned out and quit if mandated too often. NARH would have trouble keeping nurses on staff.

Management has also proposed eliminating this sentence: "The hospital will only keep and admit the number of patients that R.N.s can safely care for." Why in the world would they want to eliminate a safe staffing clause when it should be something for them to brag about? (Look, we guarantee safe care!)

They want to substitute "the Hospital shall take steps, including but not limited to, mandating overtime and/or extra hours, to ensure that there are an appropriate number of registered nurse to provide care for the patients." HUGE difference.

Notice it doesn’t say "safe" or "safely," and what does "appropriate" mean, exactly? Plus, there’s that mandatory overtime again. I’ll end with the hospital’s "gag rule" proposal, which states that a nurse may be terminated for "exercising poor judgment, the result of which negatively impacts the Hospital’s reputation and/or operation."

Does this mean R.N.s should not be involved in "controversial" political issues or groups? If a nurse is overheard somewhere criticizing something about the hospital, maybe she could be fired.

Next time we have contract negotiations, nurses wouldn’t be able to even write a letter to the editor, like this one, without fear of losing their jobs. Most importantly for patients, this means nurses would be prohibited from speaking out about patient care, working conditions and unsafe staffing.

So folks, do not assume this is just the same old nonsense that goes on every time there are contract negotiations. This is a totally different animal. Why is management demanding concessions which would drive away nurses and threaten the quality of health care at our hospital? This is a question you the health care consumer should be asking.

Robin J. Loughman, R.N.