News & Events

Years of Understaffing Exacerbated by Pandemic Drives 40% Loss of Nursing Staff at Northeast Hospital Corporation (Beverly Hospital & Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester) in the Last Three Years

02.03.2022

CANTON, Mass. – Nurses at Northeast Hospital Corp. (NHC) have reached the limit of their endurance, following years of understaffing, excessive patient loads, management’s use of forced overtime and the dangers and challenges of providing patient care during the worst public health crisis in our nation’s history -- all resulting in an unprecedented loss of 40% of the hospitals nursing staff since July 2019, and the loss of more than 100 nurses in the last five months alone.   A breakdown of the nursing staff numbers can be found at the end of this release.

Northeast Hospital Corporation is owned by the Beth Israel Lahey Health System, and is comprised of Beverly Hospital, Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, and Lahey Outpatient Center in Danvers.

“For many of the nurses at Northeast Health, working in this system under these staffing conditions for so many years has been likened to being on the Titanic.  We have hit the iceberg, the pandemic, and now we are sinking,” said Larn Beard, RN, a Special Care Nursery RN at Beverly Hospital and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association.  “Rather than dealing with our ongoing staffing crisis and doing what they need to do in order to retain and recruit experienced nurses, this administration seems to accept that we will continue to bleed staff,” Beard added. 

“The devastation of seeing our community suffer is unifying the nurses at Beverly Hospital and Addison Gilbert Hospital. The overwhelming burdens of unsafe staffing due to higher patient acuity and low wages have been issues long before the pandemic of 2020. These conditions have driven too many nurses away, and the majority who left were brilliant, compassionate caregivers who felt unsafe, understaffed and under paid,” said Arianna Marquis, RN, a nurse who has worked on one of Beverly Hospital’s medical-surgical/telemetry floors for 11 years.New graduate nurses are voicing burnout so soon into their careers and fear for their licenses. Experienced nurses find themselves in constant mourning over the exceptional care they were unable to provide due to no fault of their own. The love for our community and remaining co-workers is what keeps myself and others at the hospital, but the future of this facility lies in the hands of our administration and their willingness to heed our concerns and negotiate appropriate solutions.  I’m hoping we can mutually agree that patient safety should always be first priority.”

For its part, Northeast Hospital Corp., rather than taking aggressive steps to recruit nurses into the hospital, the administration for years resorted to the dangerous practice of using mandatory overtime, forcing a nurse to work extra hours or an entire shift, to compensate for their failure to have appropriate staff on hand to provide patient care.  The state in 2012 passed a law banning its use in the state’s acute care hospitals, yet NHC had until recently insisted on a contractual exception from the law and ordered mandatory overtime at a higher rate than just about any Mass. hospital.  Nurses at NHC were subject to 83 mandations from Sept. 2020 through Aug. 2021, with an average time of forced overtime of 6.1 hours beyond the RN’s shift.  Keep in mind that peer reviewed research shows that nurses working mandatory overtime are more likely to make an error in their care. 

Adding insult to the ongoing moral injury faced by nurses working under these untenable conditions, the nurses of NHC are among the lowest paid nurses in the region, while NHC is among the most profitable  hospital systems in the state, even during the pandemic.

Northeast nurses are paid between 11% - 16% less than nurses at other MNA represented hospitals within 30 miles, including Lawrence General Hospital and North Shore Medical Center, despite the fact that NHC hospitals enjoy a profit margin of 12. 8 percent, more than five times the state average.  (Source: Mass Commission on Healthcare Information and Analysis Hospital Profiles for 2020, released 9/21/202).

To address the crisis, the nurses are currently in negotiations for a new contract that they hope will include the addition of more nurses, as well as wage and differential increases to allow the hospital to recruit and retain needed staff.  They are also reaching out to local public officials and the public to increase pressure on BI-Lahey to put concern for patients ahead of all else. 

“When we are struggling to care for patients who are literally fighting for their lives, it is unfair to us and to them to force us to work under such conditions, yet we do the best we can every day and it is up to our administrators to finally do the same,” Beard concluded.  

Crisis at Northeast Hospital Corp.  Part of a State and National Shortfall Driven by Industry Practices

The outcry by the NHC nurses comes on the heels of a warning issued last month to the Governor by the MNA, when the organization sent a letter citing a state of emergency for all nurses and health systems, overwhelmed by the longstanding staffing crisis in our hospitals, and the pressures put on the system due to the Omicron variant. 

Two years into the pandemic, the omicron variant is spiking COVID-19 infections, driving increases in hospitalizations, and worsening pre-existing, profit-centered healthcare industry staffing practices, Katie Murphy, practicing ICU nurse and President of the MNA, wrote in the letter on behalf of 23,000 MNA nurses and healthcare professionals across the Commonwealth.

“Two years into this pandemic, we are now at a place we all feared. Healthcare workers are overwhelmed and burned out,” Murphy wrote in the letter. “Healthcare facilities are overrun with both COVID-19 patients and those individuals who delayed care throughout the pandemic, and the system is buckling under the pressure. We are closer than we have ever been to the collapse of the healthcare system.

“It must be recognized that this current staffing crisis has been years in the making, as hospital administrators have implemented policies that drove tens of thousands of qualified staff away from hospital nursing as a result of strategic efforts to understaff hospitals to generate greater operating margins,” Murphy wrote. “The pandemic has only exacerbated this situation and demonstrated the systemic lack of understanding and appreciation of the role and value of those providing direct patient care.”

Data Showing the Turnover of Nursing Staff at Northeast Hospital Corp.

Based on new 1/15/2022 data:

     

 

#

% of 2019 RNS who left

   

Nurses working at NHC in 2019 who are no longer employed as of 1/15/2022

322

40.0%

   
         

 

7/1/2019

1/15/2022

Change

 

Total # Bargaining unit members

805

695

-110

 

Total # hours per week

          22,095

          18,252

-3843

 
         

(We compared the dataset management gave us in 7/2019 to the dataset from management we received on 1/15/2021)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changes just in the LAST 5 MONTHS (between 8/2021 and 1/2022)

 

 

#

% of 8/2021 RNS who left IN 5 MONTHS

   

Nurses working at NHC 7/2021 who are no longer employed as of 1/15/2022

102

13.8%

   
         

 

8/1/2021

1/15/2022

Change

 

Total # Bargaining unit members

741

695

-46

 

Total # hours per week

          20,134

          18,252

-1883

 

 

FPO