The approximately 60 nurses and healthcare professionals of the Berkshire Visiting Nurses Association have voted overwhelmingly to form a union and join the Massachusetts Nurses Association, empowering them to speak up together and secure lasting improvements that will benefit patients, BVNA clinicians, and the community.
The BVNA registered nurses, and physical, occupational and speech therapists will be represented by the MNA following an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Berkshire VNA is owned by Berkshire Health Systems, which also owns Berkshire Medical Center where the MNA represents approximately 900 registered nurses. The election took place from December 1 to December 21. Vote counting on December 22 by NLRB officials was observed via Zoom by BVNA nurses and healthcare professionals and representatives of the agency. BVNA clinicians voted 73 percent to join the MNA.
The successful election by BVNA nurses and healthcare professionals builds on other recent organizing victories by MNA nurses and health professionals, including at Milford Regional Medical Center and the VNA of Boston. The growing interest among frontline caregivers in forming unions with their colleagues has been driven by unsafe patient care and working conditions created by our profit-driven healthcare system and made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. The common experiences of uncertainty, danger and moral injury exacerbated by the pandemic have empowered nurses and healthcare professionals to stand together and fight on behalf their patients and each other.
“Home care has always been difficult and demanding of healthcare providers. When the pandemic hit, those difficulties were escalated and we were stretched beyond what we could have ever imagined,” said Sarah Roberts, a registered nurse and member of the organizing committee at Berkshire VNA. “Our patients’ needs, and what they required for safe and effective care – which we have always strived to achieve and surpass – took a heavy toll on our own mental health and wellbeing as nurses and healthcare professionals. Now that we have formed our union at BVNA, we look forward to working collaboratively with leadership to address some of the long-standing issues found in home healthcare, provide the best home healthcare experience to our patients, and a positive work environment for all of our coworkers.”
“When nurses and healthcare professionals join together, patients are the biggest beneficiaries,” said Tamaryn Clowdus, physical therapist and member of the organizing committee at Berkshire VNA. “At BVNA, we now have a legally protected seat at the table with management to improve our practice and address issues impacting patients under our care.”
“When the pandemic hit, the complexity and risk of our work and the need to properly support nurses and healthcare professionals so we can care for patients was amplified,” said Emma Mattison, RN, and member of the organizing committee at Berkshire VNA. “Now that we have formed our union at BVNA, we can help build a strong and satisfied workforce and make positive change for our patients and our community.”
The Berkshire VNA nurses and healthcare professionals filed an election petition with the NLRB on October 7 after the agency refused to voluntarily recognize their union and after experiencing increasingly challenging working conditions and unpredictable benefits and staff support systems that have negatively impacted morale and their ability to provide the best possible care to patients.
Established in 1901, the Berkshire VNA provides comprehensive care to patients of all ages who are recovering from an illness or hospitalization in their own home. The medical needs of Berkshire VNA patients are varied and complex and may include, among other things, post-surgical conditions such as total hip or total knee replacements; stroke; Parkinson's Disease; Multiple Sclerosis; Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS); cardiopulmonary conditions; amputations; and post-trauma care (breaks, fractures).
In recent years, many hospital-based services for patients have shifted to in-home services, making VNAs and their caregivers an essential and ever-expanding part of the healthcare system. Hospitals now move patients back home faster than before as doing so reduces costs and opens in-hospital beds. This has led to a dramatic increase in the size of the region's at-home patient population as well as in the complexity of those patients.
BVNA nurses and healthcare professionals are planning to move quickly to negotiate their first contract with the agency. They have already begun the process of gathering feedback from each other to develop contract proposals that will address the unique needs of BVNA clinicians and their patients.
The MNA is the largest union and professional organization of nurses and healthcare professionals in Massachusetts. It represents 23,000 members in healthcare facilities across the state, including nurses at 70 percent of the Commonwealth’s acute care hospitals. The MNA is led by a board of directors that is directly elected by its membership and consists of frontline nurses and other healthcare professionals.