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Front-Page Story in Today’s Patriot Ledger — UPDATE: Quincy Medical Nurses Begin 24-hour Strike, Picket Line Swells

UPDATE: Quincy Medical nurses begin 24-hour strike, picket line swells

QUINCY — Quincy Medical Center remained open for business Thursday as hundreds of nurses walked the picket line during a 24-hour strike that began at 6 a.m.

Nurses say they are trying to highlight what they describe as unsafe patient conditions in the hospital. Meanwhile, hospital officials call that description false and say the strike won’t affect ongoing contract negotiations.

“We’re taking care of too many patients,” said Kristin Conneely of Hull, a nurse in Quincy for 11 years who was walking the picket line in front of the hospital on Whitwell Street at about 7 a.m. Thursday.

The strike is scheduled to end at 6 a.m. Friday.

Nurses from other Steward-owned hospitals, including Morton Hospital in Taunton and Norwood Hospital, joined Quincy nurses on the picket line and a rally was scheduled for noon.

Inside the hospital Thursday morning, Quincy Medical Center President Daniel Knell said some of the 236 nurses on staff chose to work despite the strike. He would not say how many.

He added that the hospital will be fully staffed throughout the strike with physicians, technicians and replacement nurses. He escorted a Patriot Ledger reporter to the nurses’ stations in the emergency department and on a surgical floor. Both areas appeared to be staffed.

A man dressed in a hospital gown sat in a wheelchair in the hallway on the surgical floor and monitors from the state Department of Public Health were also visible inside the hospital.

Knell said the hospital offered the union “generous” early retirement and severance packages, including five years of health insurance coverage, to fend off the strike, “and they chose not to take it.”

Steward bought the Quincy hospital in Oct. 2011 for $38 million. The purchase in bankruptcy court required a new contract to be negotiated with nurses. While they initially voiced optimism about Steward’s arrival, nurses have mostly expressed dissatisfaction with the tenor of negotiations.

The nurses strike is the first in Quincy Medical Center’s history and the first in Greater Boston in 25 years.

A key negotiation sticking point is staffing ratios for different units in the hospital. The union wants to reduce the number of nurses a patient can be assigned to at a given time. Steward says current staffing levels are sufficient considering patient volumes.

On the picket line, nurses disagreed and described being forced to “float” between departments, taking care of patients they don’t have the training for.

Evelyn Kelleher of Braintree, a nurse for 17 years, said that nurses who take their concerns about understaffing to hospital managers are routinely told: “Do the best you can, we’ll get through it.”

Knell called claims about the quality of care at the hospital false. “This strike will have a negative impact on Quincy Medical Center’s finances and the false public statements about our quality, made by our own nurses, jeopardizes the community’s confidence in our ability to care for them,” he said.

Steward is a Boston-based for-profit company launched by private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management in 2010 to buy the six hospitals in the Caritas Christi System. That group includes Norwood Hospital, Carney Hospital in Dorchester and Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton. Steward also owns New England Sinai Hospital in Stoughton and Morton Hospital.

On Wednesday, hospital management reviewed the contingency plans and processes they will adhere to during the strike, Steward spokesman Christopher Murphy said.

“We want to make sure that, for the patients that are in the hospital and the patients that come (Thursday), any disruption is minimized if not eliminated, and all the employees know what’s happening and if there are any changes to their routine,” he said.

The hospital postponed elective surgeries because of the strike, and contacted patients in the last few days to reschedule, Murphy said.

Nurses spent Wednesday finalizing schedules to ensure there is 24-hour picketing at the hospital and nailing down logistics, supplies, and travel for supporters.

“Nurses are really really pumped up,” said David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “They really feel united.”

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