News & Events

Heywood Hospital Pledges Not to Violate Nurses’ Rights to Advocate for Patient Safety After Settling Question 1 Intimidation Charge

Heywood Hospital management threatened disciplinary action against nurses for wearing buttons supporting Question 1 and safe patient limits

Settlement between the NLRB and Heywood Hospital demonstrates how far hospital executives went during Q1 campaign to threaten and mislead employees, patients and voters

GARDNER, Mass. – Heywood Hospital nurses who advocated for safe patient limits during the Question 1 ballot campaign have successfully pursued an unfair labor practice charge against the hospital, resulting in a settlement requiring Heywood to promise in writing that it will not prevent nurses from exercising their right to stand up for patient safety.

Lisa Sullivan and Bob King, registered nurses at Heywood for 13 and 28 years, were both threatened with discipline in September 2018 for wearing Yes on Question 1 for Safe Patient Limits buttons. They asserted their rights under federal labor law to wear the buttons but were told by supervisors they would be disciplined anyway. The nurses, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

“I was wearing a button on my scrubs to show support for safe patient limits, as I had done many times in the past for other causes that were important to me,” Sullivan said. “The hospital came down on nurses and patients who supported safe patient limits, even as the hospital itself was holding meetings against Question 1 and posting signs all over the building. A manager even moved a patient’s ‘Yes on 1’ sign from the window of their room.”

“The intimidation against nurses and patients for advocating for safe patient limits was not isolated to Heywood Hospital,” King said. “There was a huge banner outside our hospital opposing Question 1. Supervisors carried ‘No on 1’ lawn signs in the hospital and we received a staff-wide email from Heywood’s CEO suggesting we should tell patients to vote against safe patient limits. Hospital executives engaged in this kind of behavior and worse all across Massachusetts.”

Heywood settled the charge after the NLRB issued a complaint against the hospital for violating the National Labor Relations Act. The hospital changed its appearance policy without notifying employees or allowing the nurses to negotiate over the modification. The settlement requires Heywood to email to its employees and post in the hospital a notice describing the rights workers have under federal labor law to join and act together.

The notice also includes a series of statements by the hospital, including:

“WE WILL NOT do anything to prevent you from exercising the above [federal labor] rights.”

“WE WILL NOT tell our employees that they may not wear, or that they will be disciplined for wearing, ‘MNA political items,’ or political buttons at work while permitting them to wear other such items or buttons.”

“WE WILL NOT change our employee policies in response to employees’ protected concerted or union activity.”

Nurses at Marlborough Hospital and Lawrence General Hospital filed unfair labor practice charges for similar reasons. The NLRB also found in those cases that the hospital had violated the National Labor Relations Act by threatening to discipline nurses for wearing Yes on Question 1 buttons and/or stickers.

Widespread Question 1 Intimidation by Hospital Executives

Heywood’s threats of discipline against its nurses were part of a wave of intimidation by the hospital industry that swamped hospital staff, patients and voters during the Question 1 campaign. Utilizing a record-setting war chest of taxpayer-subsidized campaign funds, hospital executives spread fear and misinformation throughout Massachusetts.


  • Hospital executives used patient data to send out political mailings. The Yes on Question 1 campaign heard from many patients appalled to learn that their patient information was utilized to target them with letters threatening that essential services relevant to their care needs would close if Question 1 passed. The Springfield Republican reported on patients who complained about this tactic.


  • An employee of the Department of Mental Health circulated a flier in September 2018 to state employees’ email containing anti-Question 1 material. A formal complaint was filed and confirmed received by the state Ethics Commission on September 25, 2018.


  • Hospital executives spent more than $30 million – funded predominantly through non-profit health care revenue – to place misleading and sometimes outright false advertisements on television, radio and online. For each Yes on Question 1 ad, the hospital industry ran at least four opposition ads.


  • At South Shore Hospital and other hospitals, nurses were forced to hand out ‘No on 1’ propaganda to patients awaiting surgery or admission to the hospital. Those materials said that supporting Question 1 could result in patients: Being denied emergency care, forced to wait longer for care, or losing entire services.


  • At Brockton Hospital and other hospitals, when patients logged onto the patient portal for information about their care and test results, they saw information urging them to Vote No on 1, with links to this same information.

View additional examples:

Question 1 would have dramatically improved patient safety in Massachusetts hospitals by setting a safe maximum limit on the number of patients assigned to a nurse at one time, while providing flexibility to hospitals to adjust nurses’ patient assignments based on specific patient needs. The ballot question was brought forward by a coalition of registered nurses, patients and family members, health and safety organizations, community groups, unions and elected officials.

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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.