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Massachusetts Nurses Association Supports Registered Nurses and Healthcare Professionals on the Front Lines as Spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Tests Readiness of Already Strained Healthcare System

As COVID-19 spreads, MNA nurses and healthcare professionals ready to care for affected patients as they also express concerns about the effect of years of understaffing and elimination of essential healthcare services

CANTON, Mass. – The Massachusetts Nurses Association is actively monitoring the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on registered nurses, healthcare professionals and patients as the outbreak shines a light on existing problems within the Commonwealth’s healthcare system that may affect the system’s ability to respond effectively.

“The MNA represents more than 23,000 registered nurses and healthcare professionals at 85 healthcare facilities across the Commonwealth, including the majority of RNs at Massachusetts hospitals,” said RN and MNA President Donna Kelly-Williams. “As always, our members are prepared to protect patients and ensure the ongoing health and safety of our communities.

“Keeping patients safe and providing high-quality care is always our top priority,” Kelly-Williams said. “Every day, our nurses and healthcare professionals do whatever it takes to help patients recover from complex illnesses and injury. We are ready and willing to apply our skills and experience to combating any public health crisis.

“As our members begin to care for patients diagnosed with or suspected to have COVID-19, we are vigilant about ensuring every nurse and healthcare professional has the protective equipment they need. For our members to provide the best possible care, they need to be safeguarded from infection. There must also be proactive, well-communicated policies and plans in place so that everyone knows exactly how to approach the outbreak in the safest way.

“From the viewpoint of nurses at the bedside, an outbreak like COVID-19 is something we have been concerned about for a long time,” Kelly-Williams said. “Too many hospitals in the state have been operating with bare bones staffing for years, refusing to provide the nurses necessary to meet established safe standards of care.”

“Across the Commonwealth, communities are losing their hospitals and essential healthcare services,” Kelly-Williams said. “Just last August, Baystate Health closed intensive care units in Westfield and Palmer. Cambridge Health Alliance is closing its Somerville emergency department. Tenet Healthcare is eliminating inpatient services at its MetroWest Medical Center campus in Natick. Leominster Hospital recently conducted a layoff in its ED. These and dozens of other examples of hospital closures over the last decade mean entire communities do not have accessible services.

“Hundreds of times per year, hospitals force nurses to stay beyond their scheduled shift because a single colleague calls out sick,” Kelly-Williams said. “This violation of Massachusetts law against mandatory overtime is documented repeatedly by hospitals with the Department of Public Health. A hospital unit that does not have the flexibility for a single sick call will struggle with any increase in patient census or acuity.

“The MNA has sought to address these long-standing problems at the bargaining table and the State House. Our nurses have said for many years that understaffing and the erosion of local healthcare services does a disservice to patients, families and communities. In the case of a major public health problem, the concerns are even more stark and immediate. A serious outbreak of COVID-19 in Massachusetts will undoubtedly stress an already overburdened system.”

“The MNA is run by our 23,000 nurses and healthcare professionals,” Kelly-Williams said. “Our leadership, in communities throughout Massachusetts, is on the front lines of the healthcare system, caring for patients every day. We will stand together to support one another as this outbreak unfolds. If our members need support ensuring safe working conditions, fair leave protections or anything else, we will be there advocating for their best interests.”