When: Tuesday, March 19, 2019 from 12 – 1 p.m.
Where: Steward St, Elizabeth’s Medical Center, 736 Cambridge St., Brighton, MA
BRIGHTON, MA – In the wake of Steward St. Elizabeth Medical Center’s (SEMC) failure and refusal to provide contractually guaranteed RN staffing levels at Steward Health Care’s flagship facility, the 600 registered nurses of SEMC have provided management with the required notice of their plan to conduct an information picket outside the facility on March 19. The protest is designed to alert the public about patient care conditions at the facility, and to seek the public’s support in calling on SEMC to keep its promises to ensure safe patient care.
“We will be holding this picket because we are concerned for our patients’ safety.” said Chris Kenney, RN, a nurse at SEMC and co-chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “Nurses go to work every day with the fear that an unnecessary patient injury will take place under the current staffing conditions. Last July, we ratified a new contract signed by SEMC management that promised the addition of RN staffing to ensure our patients get the care they expect and deserve from this Boston teaching hospital. Enough is enough, it’s time for Steward to keep its promises.”
The nurses’ concerns for the safety of their patients are well documented. From July 2018, when the nurses ratified their contract with Steward, to the end of February 2019, nurses have submitted more than 160 official unsafe staffing reports (nearly one every other day) detailing instances where nurses were forced to take excessive patient assignments that “poses a serious threat to the safety and well-being of my patients.” Each of these reports was shared with and signed by management representatives in real time, and in nearly every case management refused to alter the nurse’s patient assignment or provide any relief to ensure appropriate care. The typical responses by SEMC management are “we have no one to send you, there is no one available, the whole house is short or do the best you can.”
The issue of patient safety and the need for increased staff support is an ongoing issue for nurses working throughout the Steward system. As nurses report that their patients’ care is in jeopardy, Steward has been involved in a multi-billion dollar expansion plan, purchasing more than 26 hospitals in nine states, the entire health care system on the Island nation of Malta, while also pursuing the purchase of additional facilities in Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
This issue is especially true at SEMC, the flagship tertiary care facility of the 10 hospitals owned by Steward in Massachusetts. At SEMC, Steward has embarked on a $100 million renovation plan, including new medical units, OR suites and a parking garage, yet it refuses to provide the RN staffing it promised to ensure an appropriate level of care to its current patients.
“Our hospital and our nurses are expected to not only care for the patients in our community, but we also are expected to handle some of the most complex patients that are transferred from other Steward community hospitals,” said Kirsten Ransom, RN, a SEMC nurse and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit. “In our last contract, we negotiated with management to provide staff needed to ensure we can respond to the needs of this complex patient population, yet Steward has refused to provide those promised resources.”
Specifically, the nurses’ contract called upon Steward to increase staffing for the patients by having “charge nurses” to start each shift with no patient assignment. Charge nurses provide a valuable role on all hospital units, overseeing the assignment of patients among other staff on the unit, ensuring an efficient flow of patients in and out of the unit, communicating with physicians and others to ensure patients receive the care they need and most importantly, providing an extra pair of hands when a patient crisis occurs. Unfortunately, much of the time there is not enough staff to provide this level of care.
Steward also agreed to add several “resource nurses” on some of the hospital’s busiest floors. These nurses would be there to assist newer nurses with complex cases, to take on assignments when patient census spikes, and to facilitate patient admissions and discharges to maintain efficient patient flow and care delivery. Again, SEMC management refuses to comply with the contract. There are no resource nurses.
The lack of these resources also can cause longer wait times and more patients boarding in the hospital’s busy emergency department while waiting to be admitted to a bed on the floors. The situation has been further exacerbated by a number of other factors, including SEMC’s failure to schedule adequate numbers of certified nurse assistants, unit secretaries, and “sitters,” staff to be on hand to monitor patients at high risk for falling, or psychiatric patients at risk for self harm.
The nurses also point to a chronic lack of basic supplies in the hospital. “It appears that ours is not the only contract that Steward fails to honor. The vendors won’t deliver without being paid,” Kenny explained.
The nurses have filed numerous grievances and have held numerous meetings over a period of years with management to demand immediate action simply meet their contractual commitments.
Contributing to this problem is the lack of consistent leadership in senior management positions at the hospital. In the last six years, there has been no less than six CEOs and seven chief nursing officers. The current chief of nursing has been at the facility since September of 2018 and will be leaving within the next few weeks.
“Nurses at St. Elizabeth’s can no longer remain silent while the company that owns the hospital uses their profits to buy more hospitals throughout the U.S. and in other countries at the expense of the care and safety of our patients,” said Kenny. “The public has a right to know about decisions that are being made at these hospitals that jeopardize their safety.”
“By signing that contract, Steward made a promise to provide a safe standard of care ,” Ransom added. “We will be out in front of our hospital on March 19 to help make sure they keep that promise”
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.