In response to deteriorating patient care conditions and demands by Partners Health Care to cut their benefits in the wake of posting more than a half billion dollars in profits, the registered nurses at Newton Wellesley Hospital issued the required 10-day notice today of their intent to conduct a one-day strike on Tuesday, June 30. The decision came after three fruitless negotiating sessions held with management and a federal mediator following the nurses’ overwhelming vote on June 10 (90 percent voting in favor) to authorize the strike. The one-day strike will begin at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, June 30 and will end on Wednesday, July 1 at 7 a.m. In addition to conducting a strike picket line in front of Newton Wellesley Hospital, the nurses also intend to picket the Partners corporate headquarters.
According to the nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, contract talks have stalled as Partners has decreased core RN staffing levels on a number of floors and increased the floating of nurses to cover for staffing shortages — a dangerous plan that is creating 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. In addition to cutting care for patients, the hospital is seeking to further boost its profit margin by cutting the nurses’ health insurance, time off and overtime benefits.
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, with nearly $100 million stashed in offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands. NWH alone has generated profits over more than $11 million in the first two quarters of this year, and will make a $24 million profit for fiscal year 2015 – a 30 percent increase in profits over the previous year. While seeking concessions from nurses, Partners is paying its top five CEOs nearly $14 million in salary.
“No nurse wants to strike, but we have no other option as Partners’ management continues to refuse to heed our concerns for the safety of our patients and the dignity of our nurses in the wake of unprecedented and unwarranted cuts to RN staffing levels,” said Laurie Andersen, co-chair of the MNA Local Bargaining Unit and a nurse in the emergency department at the hospital. “There is no justification for management’s positions in these negotiations. 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 should not be shortchanged to satisfy Partner’s corporate greed.”
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 further cut core staffing levels on a number of units while increasing the number of nurses who “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 a 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 the ability of nurses 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. In fact, the hospital has been regularly denying nurses earned time off requests. 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.
The parties began negotiations on August 25, 2014 and to date 18 sessions have been held. The contract expired on Sept. 30, 2014.
“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.”