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Family-Centered Unit Nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford Send Letter to Vice President Kamala Harris Seeking Support in Addressing Maternal Health Challenges Related to Unsafe Staffing Conditions

Nurses at St. Luke’s who care for mothers, babies and children are following up on VP Kamala Harris’s call for action on inequitable maternal child health outcomes

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – Numerous registered nurses who care for patients in the Family-Centered Unit (FCU) at St. Luke’s Hospital sent a letter on Monday, December 20 to Vice President Kamala Harris asking for her support in their efforts to address inadequate and chaotic staffing conditions and improve the quality of patient care and outcomes.

FCU nurses decided to reach out to Vice President Harris after her December 7 announcement addressing the nation’s maternal mortality and morbidity crisis. As part of a call to action in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Harris said during a White House summit, “This challenge is urgent, and it is important, and it will take all of us. And to put it simply, here's how I feel about this: in the United States of America, in the 21st century, being pregnant and giving birth should not carry such great risk. Women in our nation are dying — before, during and after childbirth."

Nineteen FCU nurses signed the letter, which describes both the staffing problems nurses face at St. Luke’s and the challenges associated with providing care to a diverse and economically disadvantaged population with increasingly complex medical needs.

“In recent years, our ability to provide safe care that meets the increasingly complex healthcare needs of patients has been under tremendous strain,” FCU nurses wrote. “During a single shift, nurses are often given three different patient assignments across service areas. In one recent instance, a labor and delivery nurse was pulled from a patient as she was 10 centimeters dilated and actively pushing. The nurse was moved to a post-partum assignment because there was no other nurse to go. The result is nurses are leaving and the quality of care is suffering…

“The conditions that have put patients at risk at St. Luke’s are clear. We join you in calling for action from the private and public sectors to combat the maternal mortality and morbidity crisis across the United States and ask you to help us address the challenges we are confronting at the bedside in New Bedford.” Email for a copy of the letter.

The letter to VP Harris comes as St. Luke’s nurses have been advocating at the bargaining table, in discussions with local elected officials, and during public actions for Southcoast Health to agree to an RN contract that will significantly improve nurse retention and recruitment and lead to improvements in staffing levels and patient care conditions.

The FCU has been a major focal point for St. Luke’s nurses because of a staffing crisis in the unit that pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. In February 2020, nurses had grown extremely concerned that the FCU had lost 25% of its nurses to turnover over the previous two years. The maternity units at Tobey and Morton hospitals had recently closed and nurses were chronically understaffed, lacking support staff and underpaid compared to similar hospitals in the region.

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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.