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Nurses of Cape Cod & Falmouth Hospitals Conduct Informational Picketing On May 19 – Story & Photos

Nurses Call for a Fair Contract with Safe Staffing and Limits on Mandatory Overtime

(View Photo Gallery from Picket)

HYANNIS, MA  — Holding signs that read “Safe Staffing Now, Protect Our Patients, and Mandatory Overtime is Unhealthy for Nurses and Patients,” registered nurses from Cape Cod and Falmouth Hospitals held an informational picket and rally outside the main entrance of Cape Hospital today to protest Cape Cod Health Care administration’s refusal to provide adequate RN staffing, safe working conditions and the resources needed to ensure patients receive quality patient care at these two facilities serving all of Cape Cod.  A second picketing outside Falmouth Hospital is scheduled for Friday, May 20 from 2-5 p.m.

The 900 nurses, who are currently involved in negotiations for a new union contract, have been meeting for months with administration to reach an agreement, and the last several sessions were held with the assistance of a federal mediator.  The nurses are outraged that despite posting a record $30 million in profits over the last two years, the hospital continues to object to needed improvements in RN staffing levels, continues to force nurses to work extra hours and double shifts to cover for staffing shortages, and refuses to grant nurses a modest pay increase in light of the sacrifices they have made to promote the hospitals’ strong financial performance. 

Nurses Call for Safer Staffing and an End to Mandatory Overtime as Staffing Tool

“Every day nurses are working under strenuous and sometimes dangerous conditions to ensure our patients receive the care they deserve at this hospital,” said Shannon Sherman, RN, a nurse at Cape Cod Hospital and chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association local bargaining unit.  “The nurses are appalled that a health care system that is posting multimillion dollar profits is refusing to invest those resources to improve care delivered to their patients.”

Sherman pointed out that on many floors, and on many days, the hospital is failing to meet contractually mandated staffing standards and/or they refuse to adjust RN staffing to meet the needs of the patients.  “When this happens, nurses are forced to care for too many patients at one time, resulting in subpar care. In many cases the patients wait longer for the nurse to complete important physical assessments and to administer necessary medications. And because of this, these patients are placed at an unnecessary risk for serious complications.”

“The hospital has cut staffing levels so low that they plan mandatory overtime as a way to complete their staffing,” said Nicky Powderly a nurse at Falmouth Hospital and chair of the MNA bargaining unit. “Nurses should not be forced to work extra hours and double shifts at the expense of their patients. Exhausted nurses cannot provide safe patient care. Do you want a nurse who has been awake for 24 hours caring for you?”

Sherman added that because there aren’t enough nurses on staff, on some days patients wait hours in the hallways of the emergency room or holding areas waiting for a bed.  Recently 10 patients were placed in a holding area with no one to take care of them. The hospital finally had to resort to mandatory overtime, forcing two nurses to work a double shift to care for the patients.

“Of course the nurses did what was needed, but this never would have happened if the hospital was properly staffed,” Sherman explained. “Those patients should not have had to wait for care, and when they received care, it should not be by a nurse who is exhausted and, according to the research, is three times more likely to make a medical error. This happens many times every summer and it is even more troubling when it has already occurred and the summer hasn’t even begun. I cannot imagine what conditions will be like in a few months.”

On some floors, such as in the psychiatric unit at Cape Cod Hospital, staffing is often dangerous both for patients and nurses.  A number of nurses have been injured due to patient assaults precipitated in part by poor staffing conditions, and patients are often placed in a chaotic environment that places their safety in serious jeopardy. Repeated attempts to convince management to address these situations, including communications to the board of trustees, has failed to result in needed improvements.    

”The hospital boasts about its ‘quality care’ but continues to ignore the nurses’ plea for improved staffing.  How can the hospital say that it puts patients first when it refuses to staff the hospital with the nurses the patients need,” said Sherman.  

To improve patient care, the nurses are seeking safer limits on nurses’ patient assignments, safe limits on the use of mandatory overtime and a modest pay raise increase in recognition of the contributions nurses have made to the successful turnaround of the hospital in recent years.

Two years ago, when this hospital was in dire financial straits, the nurses stepped up and agreed to major changes to their health insurance benefit to save the hospital millions, while agreeing to minor pay increases.

“Now that the hospital has recovered, and nurses are working under sometimes deplorable conditions, they tell us we, and our patients, need to sacrifice more,” said Powderly. “It’s time to invest in our patients and to be fair to the nurses who care for them.”  

The nurses began negotiations with the hospital in August of 2010.  For the first time, CCHC management has agreed to joint negotiations with the nurses’ bargaining units Cape Cod and Falmouth Hospitals. The last negotiating session was held on May 3, 2011. The next negotiating session will be scheduled by the federal mediator.  

The nurses hope their efforts to educate the public will move management to work in good faith to a rapid settlement.  Nurses are also concerned by the CCHC administration’s false claims that they are planning or threatening to go out on strike at this time.  

“There has been no discussion of strike by the nurses,” Sherman stated. “We are simply taking the time to educate the public so they can understand how our concerns impact the quality and safety of their care.”