PITTSFIELD, Mass. – The registered nurses of Berkshire Medical Center, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, will hold a Patient Safety Vigil on Monday, Nov. 27, the night before the next bargaining session as part of an ongoing effort to bring public attention to the hospital’s failure to agree to a fair contract that protects safe patient care and respects nurses.
Patient Safety Vigil
When: Monday, Nov. 27 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Where: Outside the main entrance of BMC at 725 North St. in Pittsfield
Why: BMC nurses and supporters will honor the patients they are fighting for ahead of the
next negotiation date on November 28
“We are committed to safe care for every patient at Berkshire Medical Center, whether we are caring for them today, next week or next year,” said Alex Neary, RN and Co-Chair of the MNA BMC Bargaining Committee. “Our one-day strike brought tremendous public attention to the challenges our nurses face when providing patient care. These problems have not gone away, and neither will we. We will keep talking to the public and rallying with our supporters until the hospital agrees to a fair contract that makes real improvements to patient safety.”
The nearly 800 registered nurses of Berkshire Medical Center, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, have been seeking a fair contract that ensures safe patient care at their hospital since September 2016.
Nurses held a one-day strike on October 3 and were then locked out of the hospital by BMC management for four additional days. The next bargaining session is scheduled for November 28. Negotiations include a federal mediator.
BMC Nurses Fighting for Safe Patient Care
A pattern of BMC nurses being assigned too many patients to care for at one time, or not having enough support staff, has been jeopardizing safe patient care at the hospital for years. BMC has yet to even agree to modest staffing language in its RN contract to address this problem, such as not making RN staffing worse and reducing or eliminating patient assignments for charge nurses.
“Charge nurses” are responsible for all patients and nurses in their area. If she or he has a patient assignment or an inappropriately high patient assignment, the charge nurse is not able to effectively coordinate care and assist other nurses. This nurse should be managing the flow of patients, be on hand to assist less experienced nurses with more complex cases, while also picking up patient assignments when staff become overburdened.
BMC has experienced an overall increase in patient volume between 2013 and 2015 of nearly 13 percent and an emergency department visit increase of 26.6 percent, according to hospital profile data from the Center for Health Information and Analysis. Much of that increase has been driven by the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital with the result being that for the nearly 40,000 residents of Northern Berkshire County, BMC in Pittsfield became the closest option for inpatient care.
BMC nurses and other staff have brought their patient care concerns forward to BMC management in various ways over the last several years, including directly to supervisors, at labor-management meetings, to hospital trustees and during ongoing negotiations.
BMC RNs have also been documenting this problem using unsafe staffing forms. Between October 1, 2015 and Oct. 18, 2017, nurses completed 462 unsafe staffing reports. The forms are a tool used by the nurses to document to management any time they are confronted with care conditions that in their professional judgment are inconsistent with safe patient care. Read the reports here.
Quality, Affordable Health Insurance
BMC nurses have repeatedly requested data from BMC that the MNA needs to analyze the hospital’s self-insurance rates as part of a proposal to create an additional “employee +” or “employee plus children” health insurance option. Citing management’s months-long refusal to provide the information, RNs filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against BMC in August. Health insurance is a mandatory subject of bargaining under federal labor law.
BMC has proposed doubling the price nurses pay each month for individual health premiums. Nurses in BMC’s family health insurance plans already pay 40 to 70 percent more than managers. BMC has also refused to consider any plan design, cost sharing, rates or co-payments other than what management first demanded at the beginning of negotiations nearly a year ago.
Berkshire Health Finances
BMC is highly profitable and its parent company Berkshire Health Systems is the dominant health care provider in Berkshire County. Over the last five years, BMC has made a profit of more than $207 million, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis. In 2016 alone, BMC posted a profit of $47.2 million. That is a margin of 9.7% – more than three times the state and regional averages of 3%, making it a real outlier among profitable hospitals. Read the CHIA BMC data here.
Despite this, Berkshire Health executives have repeatedly told nurses that BMC is unwilling to negotiate any improvements in staffing for patient care. Yet they have managed to find extra revenue to fund large executive salaries. In 2015, CEO David Phelps’ compensation was $863,000 and the top ten executives took home more than $5 million in salary and other benefits.