Labor Action News

UMass Memorial bows to pressure from nurses

10.15.2010

Cancels gala after RNs’ announcement of boycott, demonstration

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
October 2010 Edition

Bowing to pressure from outraged MNA nurses in the UMass Memorial Health Care (UMMHC) system, hospital management hastily cancelled a “nursing appreciation gala” scheduled for Sept. 21 after unionized RNs called for a boycott of the event and informed the media of their intent to hold a demonstration outside the gala.

The RNs had raised concerns about the hospital’s ongoing disrespect for nurses, poor staffing conditions and management’s recent decision to close a much-needed medical surgical floor. That closure, if implemented, will result in the loss of more than 27 nursing positions and several other valuable staff positions. The announcement of these cuts came just two months after UMMHC issued an internal alert and forced all nurses and support staff to work overtime because there were not enough beds and staff to care for patients safely. Coincidentally, the same day that they announced the cancellation of the gala, the hospital issued another internal alert that said no beds were available to care for incoming patients—a move that underscored the nurses’ opposition to the cuts.

“Even with these 28 beds still in place, we don’t have the ability to care for the patients right now. What happens when we don’t have these beds, and it’s flu season?” asked Lynne Starbard, RN, a nurse on the UMass Memorial campus who co-chairs their local bargaining unit of the MNA. “I’ll tell you what will happen, patients will wait longer for care, patients will receive poor care, and many will be harmed.” “The nurses have had it with the complete disrespect for nurses and patients shown by this administration and as demonstrated by the changes taking place,” said Kathie Logan, RN, chair of the MNA local bargaining unit on the UMass University campus. “If they want to value nurses, they should provide us with safe conditions.”

This occurred after the medical center posted profits last year of more than $80 million, and after management hired consultants to implement so-called “lean” production methods—a process that CEO John O’Brien promises will necessitate even deeper cuts in the coming months. These same lean production methods, pioneered by a leading auto manufacturer, led to one of the largest auto recalls in history last year. In a hospital setting, the nurses believe the outcome could mean an increase in patient complications, longer waits for patients and an increase in preventable patient deaths.

The UMass Memorial campus nurses are in the midst of a contentious negotiation for a new contract. An improvement in RN staffing levels is just one of the issues preventing a settlement. The University campus nurses settled their contract back in February. UMMHC’s campuses include UMass Memorial, Hahnemann, Home Health and Hospice, and the UMass University Medical Center.