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Milford Regional Medical Center Nurses Seek to Join Massachusetts Nurses Association as Hospital Executives Refuse to Partner with Nurses for Safer Conditions During COVID-19 Pandemic
MRMC nurses have filed a union election petition with the National Labor Relations Board as they stand together to improve conditions for patients, coworkers, and the community
MILFORD, Mass. – Registered nurses at Milford Regional Medical Center (MRMC) filed notice with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday, December 21 seeking an election to join the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) as they exercise their strong, united voice to improve conditions for their patients, co-workers, and community during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
"Nurses have been called heroes for what we have done during the pandemic," said Sara Burton, a nurse on the Meehan Pavillion 1 (MP1) unit for twelve years. "I think a lot of us are very uncomfortable with that, but we are really proud of the work we do. We have learned and adapted under extraordinary circumstances. We are experts in caring for patients, and we need a true voice in how we do our work. We have tried to speak up from inside the hospital, and we have used all the channels available to try to make change from within. It hasn't worked -- time and time again, decisions are made for us, not with us."
"Things have been really hard during the pandemic," Burton said. "But there are so many things that have been made harder because our senior leadership has been slow to respond to our concerns and share information. As nurses, we have to speak up when we know there is a better way. Forming a union will give us a legally protected voice to better advocate for the highest quality care for our patients and help us work together to protect each other.”
“As nurses, we represent the largest population of health care professionals in the hospital system,” said Michelle Elise, Maternity RN at MRMC. “Our input is essential to the efficiency, safety and quality of patient care. To date, our efforts to be heard on these issues have fallen on deaf ears. I want to work for an organization that functionally demonstrates the values of safety and excellence in patient care above all. To that end, my decision to support a professional nursing union is an ethical one.”
There are approximately 550 registered nurses at MRMC who would be represented by the MNA following an election overseen by the NLRB. The nurses filed their petition with the NLRB after months of organizing together in 2019 and 2020. Nurses’ concerns about patient safety, support for nurses and a lack of responsiveness from MRMC management was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unlike at many hospitals represented by the MNA, nurses on the frontlines of the pandemic at MRMC were not given a voice in the decisions being made by executives and faced unequal distribution of resources such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and unsafe working conditions. When MRMC nurses attempted to deliver a petition of nurse and community signatures about COVID-10 conditions at the hospital on March 26, Chief Nursing Officer Judy Kelly initially refused to accept the petition and interrupted nurses talking about their efforts to improve outcomes. A video of the attempted petition delivery can be viewed here. Later, Kelly agreed to create a COVID advisory committee that met once and was disbanded with no further explanation.
“Our concerns about patient safety and the treatment of nurses have been brushed off and silenced by people far removed from the bedside,” said Mike Brown, RN in the ICU at MRMC. “We deserve a legitimate voice and say in our nursing practice now more than ever.”
COVID-19 issues MRMC nurses have asked hospital management to address include:
- Lack of access to PPE throughout the hospital, especially N95 masks that should be provided to all caregivers provided direct patient care due to asymptomatic spread.
- The hospital should implement more routine testing for staff to catch outbreaks of COVID-19 before they spread.
- There should be a COVID-19 triage area in the emergency department. There is a potential space for one, which would reduce the risk of spread among patients and staff mingling in the ED, but it has not been utilized.
- Whenever possible, COVID and non-COVID patients should not be mixed in the same area, and nurses should not have mixed assignments of COVID and non-COVID patients. As of early December, there were still surgical oncology patients on the same unit as COVID patients and guards from MCI Norfolk.
- MRMC management’s failure to appropriately staff the hospital has led to inappropriate floating of nurses. Nurses have been floated from “clean” areas such as maternity and OR/PACU to COVID areas and then back again in the same shift.
- There is a lack of detailed, timely information from MRMC management to staff on the front line who need it to make better decisions.
- The hospital should better support nurses with hazard pay or another form of increased pay or benefit and should not require nurses to use their own time off if they need to quarantine.
Local Lawmakers Support Nurses
State Representative Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin, and State Representative Brian Murray, D-Milford, jointly issued the following statement:
“These nurses are our friends and neighbors who have been putting their lives on the line for us every day. We support their efforts to advocate for changes needed to protect their patients and all of us, not only during this pandemic, but in all aspects of our health care safety net. We trust that this advocacy will strengthen the process needed for workplace and patient safety and ensure a healthy future for our 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.