Press Release

Nurses: Collective Bargaining Keeps Our Patients Safe

Sparrow RNs cite care improvements, urge citizens be allowed to vote

LANSING – Citizens should be allowed to vote on protecting the collective bargaining rights that enable nurses to protect patients and negotiate for safe staffing that saves lives, members of Michigan’s largest association of registered nurses said today. Michigan Nurses Association members cited patient care improvements at Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital arising from their groundbreaking contract as well as examples from around the state.

“Collective bargaining is the strongest tool we have to protect patient care and safety because it gives us a voice to speak out on behalf of our patients," said Jeff Breslin, a Sparrow Hospital RN and president of the Michigan Nurses Association, which represents nearly 11,000 RNs across the state. “At Sparrow, we negotiated groundbreaking staff-to-patient ratios that have resulted in better and safer care for patients from across Michigan. There is no law that requires safe staffing – it’s only through negotiating with our employer that we can advocate for our patients and have a voice in the care we provide.”

As advocates for their patients, MNA members have helped lead the Protect Our Jobs campaign to permanently protect collective bargaining rights by adding them to the Michigan Constitution.

All across Michigan, nurses represented by collective bargaining can provide better and safer care because they have a voice in the care they provide. Research shows that safe staffing can be a matter of life and death for patients.1

“Staffing is always the first issue that nurses bring up in negotiations, because without adequate staffing, we cannot provide the safe, appropriate care that every patient needs,” said Tammy Parsons, a Sparrow RN.  “The ratios we negotiated with Sparrow are an example of how collective bargaining benefits everyone. Nurses have more time to provide the skilled care that patients need, and the hospital is receiving more opportunities and recognition for improved patient care.”

Nearly 2,000 members of the Michigan Nurses Association work at Sparrow Hospital, the region’s only Level One Trauma Center. As the impact of the 2010 contract’s groundbreaking staff-to-patient ratios emerges, Sparrow has garnered recognition for improved patient care this year, including:

  • Being the first hospital in Michigan invited to join the Mayo Clinic’s Care Network;
  • Earning an “A” in Patient Safety from the Leapfrog Group’s analysis of hospitals nationwide;
  • Being named one of the best-performing health systems in the country by Thomson Reuters and Modern Healthcare, based on measures including patient safety.

In addition to ratios and other measures, Sparrow and MNA collaborate on delivering the best patient care and making nurses full partners in finding ways to do that. One example is the lift team.

“We negotiated to create the lift team because it protects both the patients and the staff,” Sparrow RN Marianne George said. “It’s often not safe for one person to lift or reposition a patient. The implementation of the lift team has cut down on patient falls and staff injuries. Keeping nurses at the bedside is better for patient care and it saves the hospital money.”

The new contract ratified Monday by nearly 400 MNA nurses at Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon also shows how collective bargaining protects patients. The contract strengthens nurse-to-patient ratios and guarantees nurses adequate rest periods between shifts.

Understanding what’s at stake for their practice and their patients, many MNA members spent hours gathering some of the nearly 700,000 signatures that were submitted to put the constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining on the Nov. 6 ballot.

They expressed disappointment at the Board of Canvassers’ failure Wednesday to approve the measure. The Protect Our Jobs campaign filed a motion with the Michigan Supreme Court to bypass the Court of Appeals and let the state’s highest court determine whether citizens will have the opportunity to vote on the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“Nurses cannot protect patients without collective bargaining protecting us – it’s as simple as that,” said Tom Goodman, an RN at Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon. “The best way the public can advocate for themselves as patients is to make sure their nurses can advocate for them. It’s disturbing that anyone would deny Michigan residents the chance to vote on maintaining the collective bargaining rights that allow us to protect them.”

1 Each additional patient that a nurse has to care for increases the patient’s likelihood of dying within 30 days of admission by 7 percent, according to a 2002 Journal of the American Medical Association report.