NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – Registered nurses who care for patients in the Family-Centered Unit (FCU) at St. Luke’s Hospital have repeatedly asked hospital management to address problems with staffing that are making it harder for nurses to provide the best possible patient care.
The hospital’s failure to produce real solutions prompted 90% of the FCU nurses to sign a petition that they attempted to deliver on Tuesday to Southcoast Health CEO Keith Hovan. The CEO did not make himself available and instead a security officer was sent to ask the nurses to leave the building.
St. Luke's RNs who attempted to deliver a petition about FCU conditions to the CEO on Tuesday were joined by Rep. Christopher Hendricks.
St. Luke’s RNs outside the administrative offices waiting to deliver their petition about conditions in the FCU. They were turned away and unable to deliver to CEO Keith Hovan.
More than a month since Tobey Hospital’s maternity unit closed, the St. Luke’s FCU (labor and delivery, postpartum and level II nursery) is in chaos as the hospital fails to provide adequate staffing, pressures staff to move patients too quickly through the unit and neglects to support and listen to the concerns of nurses. The crisis conditions are causing nurses to seek maternity positions elsewhere, contributing to an overall RN retention problem at the hospital.
“We have repeatedly voiced concerns to hospital management about staffing and patient care conditions in our family-centered unit since Tobey maternity closed,” said Mariann Monteiro, a registered nurse in the FCU at St. Luke’s and an elected officer of the MNA Bargaining Committee. “The hospital has downplayed or ignored the problems, making it harder for us to provide the best possible patient care and prompting many of our nurses to look for other jobs.”
Karen Corbett, a longtime FCU nurse and an elected member of the MNA Bargaining Committee, said, “I am so deeply disappointed that south coast administration has so little respect for our nurse's and the concerns that we have brought forward on multiple occasions. All of these concerns impact our ability to deliver the safe, high quality care that we have the deep desire to provide. We all can and have to do better than this and that is why we are at the negotiating table.”
“Southcoast leadership appears not to believe FCU staffing problems are critical, even though nurses on the frontlines have made our case time and again,” said Erica Cecil, an FCU nurse and an elected member of the MNA Bargaining Committee. “We want to be able to care for our patients in a safe way that ensures positive experiences and outcomes.”
The nurses elected to serve on the St. Luke’s MNA Bargaining Committee have repeatedly raised these issues with hospital management. The hospital’s failure to effectively respond led nurses to sign a petition to CEO Hovan seeking relief. Previous outreach by nurses to management includes:
- Jan. 6, 2020: Just six days after Tobey maternity closed, the St. Luke’s FCU was in turmoil and nurses brought their specific concerns to management at the bargaining table.
- Jan. 23, 2020: At the bargaining table, nurses called on management to take immediate steps to address the ongoing problems.
- Jan. 29, 2020: Nurses made a contract proposal that would address specific FCU issues. That was in addition to a previously submitted FCU staffing proposal that calls for particular limits on how many patients each nurse would care for at one time. Nurses at this time were working to schedule a meeting with hospital leadership about the FCU.
- Feb. 4, 2020: Increasingly alarmed by the tumultuous conditions in the FCU, despite a slight reduction in the increased patient census post-Tobey closure, 11 FCU nurses gathered at negotiations and described the problems to management once again.
- Feb. 5, 2020: FCU nurses met at the hospital with Southcoast Health Chief Nursing Officer Jacqueline Somerville and other St. Luke’s managers, who actually said they had not heard about the nurses’ concerns. They said they would review them and respond.
- Feb. 12, 2020: At the bargaining table, nurses expressed dismay that CNO Somerville sent an email blast on February 11 to staff about concerns expressed during their February 5 meeting without first responding directly to the nurses elected to lead the RNs at St. Luke’s.
FCU issues nurses have raised include:
- Many staff shortages and multiple holes in schedules.
- Burnt out nurses seeking new jobs. Approximately 25 percent of FCU nurses have left in the past two years.
- Construction noise so loud that nurses cannot speak to patients in their rooms.
- Pressure to quickly discharge patients even if they have testing or procedures to complete.
- Scheduling so unorganized that nurses do not know which staff are coming in.
- Lack of emotional support for staff who experience traumatic events.
“Things have been especially bad on FCU the past few weeks, but none of the issues we have been dealing with are new. We are chronically understaffed, often don't have the support we need, and a combination of being overworked and underpaid compared to similar hospitals in the region has contributed to a high rate of turnover. This has recently been exacerbated by Southcoast's decision to close Tobey maternity without an adequate plan for how we would deal with the increased births at St. Luke's,” the FCU petition reads.
“We call on the administration to accept our proposals on staffing and wages, to both make an enforceable commitment for safe staffing and make St. Luke's a competitive employer able to recruit and retain the nurses we need. Only by making these commitments can we reliably improve outcomes and be the best hospital we can be.”
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.
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