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South Shore Insider: Canton union stands up for nurses, patients stands-up-for-Nurses-patients

South Shore Insider: Canton union stands up for nurses, patients


Donna Kelley-Williams, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association talks about the union in their Canton headquarters. Friday, November 18, 2011.

CANTON — Donna Kelly-Williams won a second term as president of the Massachusetts Nurses

Association in October, after overseeing a major change at the Canton-based union during her first two years in office. Two months after Kelly-Williams took the reins in October 2009, the association joined with two other nurses’ unions to form National Nurses United, a Silver Spring, Md.-based group that now represents 170,000 nurses across the country. The Arlington resident also helped advocate for a new state law, passed last year, that increased the penalties for patients who assault nurses.

Kelly-Williams, 57, balances her union duties with a full-time job as a night-shift maternity nurse at Cambridge Hospital.

What are some of the biggest issues facing nurses today?

I think the biggest issue for all nurses is staffing, being able to take care of their patients and being able to take care of themselves as nurses, to be able to do the very best job that they can with the limited resources that are available to them.

What kind of progress are you making on obtaining mandatory staffing ratios at hospitals?

We’re making progress. It is a long, uphill battle. But I do feel that we are making progress, and not only in the Legislature, but also in the individual bargaining units.

What’s the main argument against staffing ratios?

I think the major concern is the cost of it, and what we’re trying to make everyone see is that it is really a cost savings. If we have the right staffing, and we’re able to take care of our patients the right way, the decreased number of complications, the decrease in the readmission rate, actually is much more cost-effective than trying to stretch nurses too thin, and to have patients discharged out too quickly.

What’s the association’s stance on Steward Health Care’s takeover of Quincy Medical Center?

Well, we have great concerns because … that’s a huge for-profit corporation right now that is getting into health care, and what our concerns are is where are the cutbacks going to be, and are they going to impact the nurses’ ability to take care of their patients? We’ve already seen some that concern us greatly. The nurses have been very active in making sure that each of those are identified and they try to ward off any problems before patients get hurt.

What’s the status of the pension conflict between the union and Steward stemming from its acquisition of the Caritas Christi hospitals?

That continues to be a problem. The Massachusetts Nurses Association bargained in good faith with the Steward corporation, and did come to a consensus, not only with Steward but also with the membership voting to accept that as a contract going forward, and what has happened since then is that Steward has reneged on their agreement going forward.

What’s the main dispute?

The main concern is the … pension plan that was promised to the nurses, and we continue to be miles apart on that.

What were the advantages of joining the national union?

What we’ve seen is the problems that we’re finding in Massachusetts, the things that nurses are struggling with here, are no different than what nurses are struggling with across the nation. Fortunately for the California nurses, who are also part of the National Nurses United, they have been successful in getting safe staffing legislation passed and have seen an incredible change in their ability to take care of their patients.

How has that legislation affected hospitals in California financially?

Despite the fact that they were afraid that so many hospitals were going to close as a result of that, that was not the case at all, and … patient care has improved in that area, and many nurses who had left the bedside, who chose no longer to practice as registered nurses, returned to the bedside. So the other part of that concern was whether or not they’d have enough nurses to fill that void to staff up to make sure that the patients were being protected. And many people moved to California to be able to practice as a registered nurse as they were trained.

Why has the nurses’ association aligned itself with the Occupy Boston movement?

Actually, we were first out of the gate with our Main Street campaign, back in the early part of this year, because nurses across the state have been seeing that our patients coming into the hospital are sicker because they don’t have the resources that they need to be able to take care of themselves. They’ve either lost their jobs, they’ve lost their health insurance, or the health insurance that they have – the coinsurances and the co-pays make it absolutely impossible for them to go for preventative care and for acute care at the early stages.

In the union’s view, what can be done to lower health care costs?

I think getting people healthy, and being able to have the resources to be able to take care of people, and that starts with good jobs for people. It starts with good education. It starts with building up our communities, bringing back the American dream so that people can enjoy the benefits of a healthy life.

Alex Spanko may be reached at

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