News & Events

Tufts nurses hold candlelight vigil; call for restoration of safe patient care

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
February/March 2011 Edition

Forming a block-long line of flickering candlelight, several hundred nurses joined by hundreds more supporters from the greater Boston community held a vigil outside the main entrance of Tufts Medical Center on Feb. 15. The demonstration was part of their efforts to pressure management to enact desperately needed improvements in patient care conditions at this level one pediatric trauma and level two adult trauma center.

”The public needs to know that nurses at Tufts Medical Center love this hospital. Most of us have spent the bulk of, if not all of, our careers as proud members of the clinical team, knowing we provided excellent care,” said Barbara Tiller, RN, a nurse at the hospital and chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association local bargaining unit of 1,200 nurses. “Participating in an event like this is not what we want to do; it is something we have to do, because in the end, it is our moral and ethical responsibility to advocate for the patitents under our care. And right now, they are not safe.”

The nurses have serious concerns about recent cuts in RN staffing levels and other changes in how they deliver care that has resulted in nurses being forced to care for more patients at one time on nearly every unit. To compensate for chronic understaffing, Tufts is using mandatory overtime, and is forcing nurses to “float” from one area of the hospital to another where they might not be competent to provide appropriate care.

“Those changes transformed this hospital from being one of the best staffed hospitals in Boston to the worst staffed hospital in the city,” Tiller explained. “No other institution in the city is operating ICUs where their nurses are expected to care for three patients, nor are they expecting their medical surgical nurses to carry assignments of up to seven patients on a regular basis.”

Tiller added that staffing changes have caused a dramatic deterioration in both the quality of care nurses are delivering and, in some cases, have resulted in serious lapses in care. In the past year alone nurses have filed more than 520 reports of incidents that jeopardized patient care.

“I see nurses all over the hospital going home late and in tears over how bad their shift was, and hear that they spend sleepless nights wondering what they missed, or feeling horrible about not being able to provide the level of care they know their patients deserve. Even one of these occurrences is unacceptable, but to have it happening nearly every day is disgraceful, and it is patently dangerous,” Tiller added. “Issues that are occurring from larger patient assignments include delays in nursing assessment, delayed administration of medications and tests, nurses missing significant changes in patients’ health status, poor patient outcomes, patients falling due to lack of assistance in getting up and moving and patients being left in soiled beds for hours at a time.”

The 1,200 RNs at Tufts, who are currently in negotiations for a new contract, are seeking contractually guaranteed, safe staffing levels, and prohibitions against forced overtime and the inappropriate floating of nurses—all of which are needed to ensure that patients at Tufts Medical Center receive the safe care they deserve.

“As of today, the hospital has shown no interest in addressing our concerns for your safety,” said Tiller. “We have organized this event to shine the light on this crisis in the hopes that with the community’s support, something will finally be done to protect our patients.”

Joining the nurses at the vigil were representatives from a number of civic, religious and labor groups, including a number of union leaders from the across the U.S. and throughout the world who were participating in the prestigious Harvard Trade Union Program at nearby Harvard University.

“We are gratified by the outpouring of support we have received for our cause,” Tiller said. “The public understands that it is the community that has the issue of the most to lose in this struggle. For our patients, this is truly a matter of life and death.”

The nurses began negotiating a new contract with Tufts Medical Center management last September. The current contract expired on Dec. 31, 2010 and it has been extended by agreement of both parties through the end of March.