Management’s Refusal to Provide Key Material to Nurses’ Union About its Plan to Merge Services and Cut Staff Leads to Charge
Leominster, Mass. — The registered nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United, at UMass-owned Leominster Hospital filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge with the state office of the National Labor Relations Board on Monday morning over the hospital’s continued refusal to provide key information and documents about its ill-proposed plans to merge hospital services and cut staff.
The charge comes after several attempts by the union to obtain a variety of records, communications, and reports from hospital management that detail both its plans and supposed rationale and nurses strongly believe these plans will jeopardize the health and safety of every patient in the hospital.
The MNA’s original request for information was presented to the hospital on June 7 and it was for a complete copy of a report from Applied Management Systems (AMS), the health care consulting firm whose analysis was assessed prior to Leominster management announcing drastic cuts in services and staff at the highly regarded, community-based hospital. Because the hospital’s restructuring proposal was determined after commissioning and reviewing the AMS report, having full access to the report has been an urgent and essential issue for the RNs.
“We originally requested a complete copy of the AMS report from management on June 7, just one day after the hospital notified us of its intent to cut services and staff,” said Natalie M. Pereira, RN and bargaining unit chairperson. “Since then we have asked five additional times for the report ï‚¾ on June 9, 19, 20, 23, and 26. We have yet to receive the full report. Instead, management is proposing parceling out only what they deem relevant.”
The hospital heavily referenced the AMS report in its original letter notifying the MNA nurses of its plans to cut both staff and services: “The Consultants have concluded their work and have submitted their findings and recommendations. The entire management team has reviewed this information and has determined that a reduction in staff and reorganization predicated on consistent downturn in volume is necessary of nearly all of our departments to ensure future success.”
The MNA had also repeatedly requested, and only recently received, a copy of the hospital’s correspondence with the Department of Public Health regarding the changes in services and staff in the proposed combining of the hospital’s pediatrics unit into the labor/delivery and maternity units.
The hospital’s plan to merge the pediatric, labor and delivery, and maternity units and to cross train all RNs working there is an alarming proposal that goes against what the professional standards for maternity and pediatric care show is best for those patients. Some of the staffing changes contemplated by Leominster Hospital have been in place at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton and recently resulted in the deaths of two newborns and a mother. Those deaths prompted an investigation by the Department of Public Health as well as a call to change those practices.
“The hospital’s lack of transparency is very unsettling,” added Theresa Love, RN and secretary and grievance chair of the bargaining unit. “We still have yet to see a complete, hospital-wide plan in terms of lost and reduced positions. And we have countless unanswered questions about the proposed reorganization … especially in the labor and delivery, postpartum and pediatrics units, which are slated to be merged and their RNs cross trained. All these unknowns are difficult for the nurses who continue to deliver exceptional bedside care, but just imagine how difficult they must be for patients and the community at large.”
The hospital’s plan calls for increasing nurses’ patient assignments on the night shift from five to six, which research shows increases the risk of death for all those patients by 7 to 14 percent. Management is also proposing cuts to ED staffing, which will mean longer wait times for patients, more boarding of patients, and the likelihood that a patient could suffer a complication because of these delays in care.
Nurses are also concerned about the staff reductions not only of RNs but of support staff in the ED for the care of psychiatric patients. When UMass closed its psychiatric unit at Burbank Hospital in 2010, Leominster promised the DPH and the community that they were increasing staff and resources in their emergency department to help care for those experiencing a mental health crisis. While they never fully implemented those changes, Leominster is now undermining the staffing levels that are currently in place, further eroding care for the mentally ill in Northern Worcester County.
The Leominster RNs have moved forward with a community awareness campaign to tell the public how a planned downsizing of staff at the hospital could hurt medical care for patients. “We want the community to know that reduced staffing will force the remaining RNs to take on higher caseloads, and that patients will be put at considerable risk as a result,” said Debra Harris, RN and vice chairperson of the bargaining unit. “As a result, we will be meeting with our elected officials over the next few weeks and distributing lawn signs to businesses and homeowners throughout town, as well as considering other activities aimed at preventing these changes from being implemented.”
The attempt to downsize staff and increase patient assignments for nurses at Leominster Hospital is the latest round of staffing cuts by UMass Memorial Health Care, which has been wreaking havoc throughout the entire UMass system. There have been countless rounds of layoffs and service closures at the UMass Memorial facilities in Worcester; cuts to the urgent care and cancer centers on the Burbank campus; and layoffs of staff and poor patient care conditions at the Marlborough Hospital campus. The dismal conditions at Marlborough recently resulted in 90 percent of those nurses signing a petition they delivered to management demanding immediate action to improve dangerous patient care conditions.
The nurses met with Leominster Hospital management at 8 a.m. on Monday morning, June 30 to continue talks.