The registered nurses of Newton Wellesley Hospital, who are negotiating a new contract with Partners Health Care, will conduct an informational picket outside the Wellesley-based hospital on April 16 from 2 – 4:30 p.m. to protest efforts by Partners to boost its multi-million dollar profits margin by cutting patients access to appropriate nursing care.
According to the nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, contract talks have stalled over Partner’s plan to decrease core RN staffing levels and to increase the floating of nurses to cover for staffing shortages — a dangerous plan that nurses believe will lead to unsafe patient assignments for nurses, while also depriving patients of the specialized care they need to be safe during their hospital stay. The nurses’ concerns about patient care have increased in recent months, as the hospital has already implemented dangerous cuts to RN staffing in the emergency department, while cutting staff and services for mothers and newborns in the hospital’s busy maternity unit.
The NWH nurses are outraged by the hospital’s lack of effort to negotiate a fair settlement with the nurses in light of the fact that Partners Healthcare is the most profitable health care system in the state, if not all of New England, having generated more than $9 billion in revenues and having posted profits of more than $600 million.
“Nurses, who provide 90 percent of the care that patients receive and who give their heart and soul every day to ensure their safety, are appalled that Partners continues to place its desire for profits ahead of its concern for patients and those who care for them,” said Laurie Andersen, chair of the MNA Local Bargaining Unit and a nurse in the emergency department at the hospital. “We are conducting this picket to educate the public about how the issues at stake in these negotiations impact the quality and safety of their hospital care.”
Staffing/Floating is Key Sticking Point
As an alternative to having patient care units fully staffed with nurses experienced to care for patients in those areas, Partners is demanding the right to cut core staffing levels on a number of units while increasing the number of nurses who will “float” from one area of the medical center to another where they may be unfamiliar with the specific patient conditions, the equipment or procedures on that unit, and as result, may not be able to provide appropriate care.
“The most important factor determining your safety during a hospital stay is the time and attention you receive from your registered nurses — nurses who are experienced in providing the specialized care your condition requires,” Andersen explained. “Hospitals are not factories, patients are not widgets and nurses are not interchangeable parts. Management’s floating plan fails to acknowledge that nursing, like medicine, is highly specialized and no nurse should be forced to care for patients unless he or she is qualified and properly trained to care for those patients.”
Partners Seeks Cut to the Nurses Benefits
Adding insult to injury, in addition to cutting staffing and compromising nurses’ ability to provide quality care, the hospital is also seeking to cut nurses benefits, while offering the majority of the most experienced nurses a mere 1 percent pay increase, well below the cost of living.
Specifically, the hospital is seeking to increase the nurses’ contribution for their health insurance benefit, while also cutting the nurses vacation time benefit. Partners also seeks to cut nurses overtime premium pay benefit, taking away the current time and one-half pay rate for at least 30 minutes following the end of the nurses’ regularly scheduled shift. Nurses believe this change would lead to an effort to force nurses to work longer, when medical research shows exhausted nurses cannot provide safe patient care.
These changes are being proposed at a time when Newton Wellesley Hospital posted profits in excess of $18 million last year and is on pace to make more than $20 million this year, and when Partners Health Care, the corporate owner of our hospital, recorded profits of more than $600 million.
“There is no justification for management’s positions in these negotiations,” Anderson explained. “They are making enormous profits, and they are doing it on the backs of the nurses and other caregivers who work so hard to make this hospital a success. Our patients and our nurses shouldn’t be shortchanged to satisfy Partner’s corporate greed.”
The parties began negotiations on August 25, 2014 and to date nine sessions have been held. The contract expired on Sept. 30, 2014 but has been extended through the next session. More than 900 registered nurses are represented by the MNA at NWH.
“We have been trying to convince the hospital to be fair to the nurses and to our patients,” said Andersen. “Now we are appealing directly to the public for their support to ensure that Partners puts patients before profits, and the care of this community ahead of its concern for the corporate bottom line.”