What: A rally for patient safety and quality patient care
When: Wednesday, March 27 from 4 to 5 p.m.
Where: Main Street at Washington Street, Downtown Ayer
Who: NVMC RNs, their families, friends, and neighbors, as well as local community and elected leaders
The registered nurses who work at Steward Nashoba Valley Medical Center (NVMC) will gather on Main Street in downtown Ayer at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 27 to call attention to the ongoing issues inside of the hospital that affect patient safety, staff recruitment, and retention.
At the root of these problems are the issues of long-standing wage and benefit disparity. A recent analysis that compares wages of Nashoba RNs to those of RNs at 22 competing hospitals shows that NVMC nurses earn up to 20 percent less than some of their local counterparts. Over the course of 20 years with these wages in place, a Nashoba RN would lose out on nearly $217,000 in wages alone, before adding in loss in comparative benefits.
This disparity directly affects the day-to-day care of patients and the work of all members of the care team because it leads to extraordinarily high turnover. This is then compounded by the fact that potential new nurses who are qualified candidates are less likely to be interested in working at NVMC due to the resulting staffing conditions there.
“Why would someone accept a position at NVMC when they can drive less than 30 minutes in any direction and work in a hospital with better nurse-to-patient staffing and that will pay them 15 or even 20 percent more per hour?” said Fran Karaska, RN and co-chairperson of the nurses’ MNA bargaining unit at NVMC.
High turnover rates and recruitment stagnation do not just affect nurses and all other healthcare staff. They affect patients too, in the form of poor staffing levels:
· In 2018, 12 percent of the time (84 shifts out of 730) the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) was staffed with only one RN. So far in 2019, 35 percent of the time (52 shifts out of 148) there was only one ICU RN.
· Overall turnover is more than 200 percent of the northeast hospital average of 16.5 percent annually. The current RN vacancy rate is likewise more than 200 percent of the national average.
· Schedules, which are posted three weeks in advance, almost always have “holes,” meaning that management cannot say what RNs will be assigned to what shifts because there are not enough RNs on staff for proper scheduling. In the past six weeks, there were 93 open shifts in the ER alone.
· With the exception of approximately three nurses, the RN staff in the Geriatric Psychiatric Unit has turned over entirely three times in the past three years.
· Over the past nine months a significant number of nurses have left the hospital (or resigned from regular positions) as they have found jobs elsewhere.
The hospital has a good reputation, but more patients want to come to the hospital than the hospital can treat because they do not have enough staff:
· Patients are frequently transferred from the ER to other hospitals because there is not enough staff to care for them.
· ICU patients are routinely transferred to other Steward hospitals, and ICU beds have been closed because of the shortage of ICU RNs. The hospital sometimes therefore “boards” ICU patients in the ER, or transfers ICU patients to regular nursing floors. Some shifts management closes the ICU due to a lack of RN staff.
“Nurses want to give everything to our patients each and every day,” said Audra Sprague, RN and bargaining unit co-chairperson. “But working short staffed, always being underpaid and undervalued, and watching great staff leave for other jobs makes doing that very difficult. We need management to make the necessary improvements.”
The nurses, who are in contract talks with Steward NVMC, have spent 11 negotiation sessions with management trying to improve nurse staffing levels and make NVMC competitive in recruitment and retention. To date, management has not responded to those proposals.