PITTSFIELD, Mass. – The registered nurses of Berkshire Medical Center, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, will deliver a petition on Monday, Jan. 8 signed by an overwhelmingly majority (85%) of BMC nurses to members of the Berkshire Health Systems Board of Trustees.
The nurses’ petition urges the BHS board to intervene and take “swift action” ahead of the nurses’ next negotiating session on January 9 to ensure that BMC patients are cared for safely and nurses receive a fair agreement with the hospital. On December 20, the third bargaining session since the strike, BMC management refused to make any movement on nurse staffing and workload or health insurance. They had no proposals on those issues.
Trustee Petition Delivery
Date: Monday, Jan. 8, 2018
Time: 12 p.m.
Location: Nurses meet at Park Square in Pittsfield and deliver the petition to a representative member of the board, Trustee Jerome J. Anderson at Pittsfield Cooperative Bank at 70 South St.
“The non-profit trustees overseeing Berkshire Medical Center have a responsibility to protect precious community resources like safe patient care and the nurses who provide that care,” said Alex Neary, RN and Co-Chair of the BMC MNA Bargaining Committee. “Although some trustees are trying to do the right thing, the board itself is failing the public trust and allowing hospital administrators to treat patient care like line items on a corporate balance sheet. The public should be able to trust that that non-profit trustees are making decisions in the best interests of our community.”
The petition reads: “As trustees, you are stewards tasked with overseeing Berkshire Medical Center. BMC and the patient care that nurses and other staff provide are among our community's most valuable assets. Since BMC is funded primarily through public money—tax dollars and generous donations—trustees have an obligation to take the time and listen to the patient safety concerns being raised by the community and nurses. This is your job.
“Therefore, we are asking you to intervene NOW and convince BMC's administration to settle a fair contract with nurses. There can be no further delay. Patient safety is, and has always been, our #1 priority. Please demonstrate through your swift action that it is yours as well.”
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 January 9. 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 presented their patient care concerns in various ways over the last several years, including directly to supervisors, at labor-management meetings, to hospital trustees and during negotiations. Between October 1, 2015 and Oct. 18, 2017, nurses also 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 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.