Federal Mediator Calls for Negotiations Between Quincy Medical Center Nurses and Cerberus-Steward
Federal Mediator Calls for Negotiations on Monday, April 8 Between Quincy Medical Center Nurses and Cerberus-Steward Management Prior to April 11 Planned Strike
Nurses Look Forward to Opportunity to Negotiate a Settlement to Address Serious Patient Care Concerns and to Avert the Need for a Strike
QUINCY, MA — A federal mediator has scheduled a meeting between the Quincy Medical Center nurses, and Cerberus-Steward Health Care on Monday, April 8 at 10 a.m. prior to the nurses’ one-day unfair labor practice strike on April 11.
“We look forward to any opportunity to meet with management in a good faith effort to reach a settlement that will put an end to a growing patient safety crisis at our hospital,” said Quincy Medical Center Emergency Department RN and MNA bargaining committee member Stacey McEachern, “The MNA has told management that we are willing to negotiate Sunday and Monday or any other time, as our goal here is to find a resolution to this crisis without a strike. ”
The mediator called for talks following management’s cancellation of bargaining previously scheduled for Sunday April 7 and Monday, April 8.
According to Paula Ryan, RN, a 45-year nurse at the hospital and chair of the MNA/NNU local bargaining unit of the nurses, “We have told management that we are ready to bargain at any time. We were disappointed that bargaining on Sunday and Monday was previously cancelled. For months, we have been trying to engage the company in a process to make things better for our patients. We hope they will take this opportunity on Monday to respond in a real back and forth to our concerns for the good of our patients and our community.”
After filing more than 150 reports of what RNs consider to be unsafe patient care and greater patient risk with the hope that hospital administrators would negotiate a safe staffing plan to rectify the situation, which they did not, 94% of the nurses voted in favor of the strike, with 90% of the Mass Nurses Association/National Nurses United members at the Hospital participating in the one-day secret ballot vote.
The long-standing patient safety concerns at the hospital turned into full blown crisis on February 17 when Cerberus-Steward, the for-profit owner of the hospital, shut down a 40-bed nursing unit. As a result, nurses report that as many as a dozen patients per day are being “boarded” in the hospital’s emergency department (ED), sometimes for 24 hours or more under conditions the nurses consider to be unsafe.
“The public needs to know how worried we are, that we’ve been telling management we don’t consider this situation to be safe, and they have been refusing to discuss the staffing plan with us,” said McEachern. “The patients who are being boarded in our ED have been admitted to the hospital, but are not receiving an appropriate level of care because they are being placed on stretchers in an emergency room, waiting for a bed on a medical floor that no longer is available to them. The bottom line is patients are being deprived of the services they need. Management has told us that the hospital is trying to cut costs, and that their parent company, Cerberus, won’t invest more money, and that it’s their right to make these decisions”
The nurses issued the formal 10-day strike notice, which is required by federal labor law, as hospital management continues to refuse to agree to negotiate solutions for desperately needed improvements to ensure that patients do not continue to be at risk. Numerous studies over the last decade have shown a direct and immediate link between excess patient assignments for nurses and the serious complications, medical errors, and readmissions caused by a lack of access to timely nursing care. The one-day strike will begin at 6 a.m. on Thursday, April 11 and will end on Friday, April 12 at 6:00 a.m.
“Our members have had enough,” said Ryan. “We have attempted to negotiate for months with management. We have presented written reports; we have told them we are worried that there are imminent risks of negative patient outcomes. They have refused to respond except to say that this is a financial decision. We feel that we have a duty to our patients, our practice and to each other to take action. We also consider it to be our duty to the future of this hospital that we love. I have been a nurse here for 45 years. I received my RN training here, and had my children here. This is our hospital and we want it to succeed. But when you find yourself to be in a hole, the first step is to stop digging. We are at the point where we have to say ‘stop.”
Since the closing of the medical-surgical unit, ED nurses report being put in the position of providing types of care for which they are not equipped for patients who have been “admitted” to the hospital as ICU, Medical Surgical or Telemetry patients, but who, in reality, are physically being housed in the ED. They also report that they are caring for admitted patients without bolstering the number of staff in the ED. When not boarded in the emergency department, patients are being sent to other areas of the hospital, such as the intensive care unit, which means that there are now fewer beds available for more critically ill patients. MNA/NNU nurses have been complaining urgently to Steward management for four weeks that patients are not receiving the level of nursing care they should expect and deserve, and that they are greatly concerned about imminent potentially negative outcomes.
The nurses have been attempting for months, well before the closing of the unit, to convince the hospital to negotiate with them to improve patient safety and care, as fewer nurses have been expected to care for too many patients at one time. In the past 12 months, nurses have filed more than 150 written reports of unsafe conditions at the hospital where they felt the safety of their patients was placed in jeopardy as a direct result of excessive patient assignments. In early January, dozens of nurses from the hospital, including nurses from the unit that was just closed, were out in the community, handing out leaflets at T stations and shopping centers detailing their serious concerns about potentially unsafe staffing conditions at the hospital. Nurses have also informed the Department of Public Health that they consider conditions to be unsafe for patients.
The 236 nurses at Quincy Medical Center have been in negotiations for their first contract with Cerberus Steward, which purchased the hospital in October of 2011. Countless negotiations sessions have been held since December 2011.
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.