2013 News

Patient Safety is Catalyst for Merrimack Valley Nurses Rally on Friday, April 5


P R E S S  R E L E A S E

For Immediate Release  Contact:  Jennifer Johnson      781-363-3681
Date:  April 3, 2013     David Schildmeier     781-249-0430

Patient Safety is Catalyst for Merrimack Valley Nurses Rally
on Friday, April 5
RNs say, “Our number one concern is patient safety. As nurses, we can safely care for four patients at any one time; we are being required to care for six on a regular basis - risking the health and welfare of our patients. Something must change.”

HAVERHILL, Mass.  Patient safety and protection will take center stage as registered nurses working at Haverhill’s Merrimack Valley Hospital (MVH) will hold a community rally on Friday, April 5 from 5 to 7 p.m. (at the corner of Brown St. and Lincoln Ave., in front of Haverhill Stadium).

The nurses, all of whom are members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United (MNA/NNU), have been both discouraged and alarmed in recent months by the risks their patients are forced to endure as a result of the dangerous increase in the number of patients being assigned to one nurse at any given time.

Although a problem previously, it has increased greatly since Cerberus-Steward Health Care, the hospital’s for profit owner, closed a medical/surgical floor several months ago and combined it with its telemetry floor. The pairing has created a dangerous trickle-down effect to patients in the rest of the hospital

“Fewer beds in med/surg means that ER patients have nowhere to move to once stabilized,” explained Deirdre Tremblay, a med/surg RN and bargaining unit representative. “As a result, patients are sometimes held in the ER for up to two days simply because there’s not a bed to move them to. Adding insult to injury, the same situation is happening to OR patients: no beds, no rooms … everyone is waiting and waiting, raising the risk and safety factors while patients are not getting the necessary specialized care they need.”

What does happen, however, is RNs end up frantically juggling dangerously high patient caseloads that far exceed what current research has proven time and time again to be safe.

“Studies have shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the best-case standard in safe patient care on a med/surg floor is one RN to four patients,” described Kathy Renzi, an RN in the ambulatory care department and co-chair of the hospital’s MNA bargaining unit. “And I’m telling you that we’re consistently above that safe level, at one-to five on days during the best of times and as high as one-to-eight on nights during the worst of times.” In fact, a sampling of recent research shows that:
• Every additional patient assigned to an RN is associated with a 7 percent increase in the risk of hospital-acquired pneumonia, a 53 percent increase in respiratory failure, and a 17 percent increase in medical complications.
• And patients cared for in hospitals with higher (i.e., better) staffing levels were 68 percent less likely to acquire an infection. Other measures such as ventilator-associated pneumonia and skin ulcers were also reduced in units with high staffing levels. Patients were also less likely to die within 30 days in these higher-staffed units.

“This rally is meant to be a community event, because this hospital  and the work we do inside of it  is a reflection of the people who live and work here,” added Renzi. “We want the community to know that it deserves better and safer care than we can provide at this time. And, in fact, we can provide the best and safest care available … but only if Cerberus/Steward will let us do so.”

Patients are being placed at greater risk across the entire Cerberus/Steward-owned network of hospitals as management attempts to drive down costs and raise profits at the expense of patients and the nurses needed to adequately care for them. In response to Steward’s “interested-in-the-bottom-line-only” actions, RNs at MVH, Holy Family Hospital, Morton Hospital in Taunton, and Quincy Medical Center have all scheduled job actions and/or community events, with the RNs at Quincy calling for a one-day strike over management's refusal to bargain over the issue on April 11. The hospitals are owned by the for-profit private equity giant Cerberus Capital LLP.

“If Cerberus/Steward doesn’t stop over inflating this ‘staffing balloon,’ it is going to burst,” summarized Renzi. “And I have no idea how we’ll pick up the pieces if that happens.”


Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest professional health care organization and 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.  The MNA is also a founding member of National Nurses United, the largest national nurses union in the United States with more than 170,000 members from coast to coast.