The 27 registered nurses who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United (MNA/NNU) and who work throughout Northern Worcester County as home health RNs for HealthAlliance Home Health and Hospice have turned to a federal mediator in the hopes that their current contract talks with HealthAlliance can be improved and that proposed cuts to their livelihoods can be avoided.
Contract talks have been lumbering along under the weight of several ill intended proposals that HealthAlliance management put forth, including a proposal that would increase the cost sharing of health insurance from 85 percent to 50 percent for some RNs. Compounding the issue is a management-driven wage proposal that does not keep pace with the cost of living, let alone offset the expense associated with its aggressive insurance proposal. Specifically:
- Management wants all future part-time RNs — whether they are brand new to the HealthAlliance system or are current employees who one day opt to become part time — to pay half of the cost of their employer-sponsored health insurance, an increase of more than 35 percent. Cost-shifting to this degree will likely provide management with a major incentive to do away with full-time positions for part-time/per diem positions, a move that would significantly interrupt the continuity of care for patients.
- Management wants all full-time home health RNs to pay 5 percent more for their employer-sponsored health insurance.
- Management is offering an inadequate, three-year wage proposal that would not even come close to covering all aforementioned increases.
“If these proposals were put in place, every one of us would lose pay, it would just be a matter of degree,” said Christa Gorrell, RN and chairperson of her bargaining unit. “Week after week — throughout the life of this proposed three-year contract — we’d see a considerably smaller dollar amount in our checks then we saw even just last week. We can’t allow that to happen.”
Although they are licensed, credentialed and educated to the same degree as their hospital-based counterparts, the home health nurses are the lowest paid nurses in the HealthAlliance system, which also encompasses Leominster Hospital and Burbank Hospital in Fitchburg.
“The scope of practice for a home health nurses is as varied and complicated as it is for any bedside nurse,” added Taunja Golding, RN and bargaining unit co-chair. “And there are unique components to our job that we hoped management would recognize: Our patients are sicker now than ever before; we do not have an on-site team when we care for our patients; we must self-monitor; we must self-direct; and we must interact with patients and their families in their space on their time. But, if management’s proposals are any indication, they see no value in the exceptional care we provide to at-home patients throughout Northern Worcester County.”
These shortsighted proposals stand to affect more than just nurses however: They could well affect patients, as cuts in pay, dramatic increases in the cost of benefits, and efforts to replace full-time employees with part-time/per diem RNs could result in ongoing staff turnover. “Home health nurses are an essential part of today’s health care safety net,” said Gorrell. “And any patient in Northern Worcester County who has been in our care can attest to that. It would be a tremendous loss if HealthAlliance sat back as these RNs left for an employer who recognizes and values their skills.”
The HealthAlliance Home Health and Hospice registered nurses return to the bargaining table on Sept. 16.