Massachusetts Nurses Association RN from Berkshire Medical Center Awarded Labor Person of the Year
PITTSFIELD, Mass. – Marie Geary, a registered nurse at Berkshire Medical Center and a member of the Massachusetts Nurses Association Bargaining Committee at the hospital, will be presented with the 32nd Annual Labor Person of the Year Award by the Berkshire Central Labor Council on Sunday, Oct. 29.
“Marie is the kind of person who makes you proud to be their colleague and their friend,” said Alex Neary, RN and Co-Chair of the MNA BMC Bargaining Committee. “She works tirelessly for her patients when she is at the hospital and on behalf of her fellow union members out in the community. Marie has been an integral part of our bargaining committee at BMC as we have negotiated for more than a year for a fair contract that ensures safe patient care.”
Geary is a psychiatric nurse at BMC and has been an RN for 21 years. Her daughter, Nicole Viale, will be among those who honor Geary during the breakfast on Sunday. Viale said that although her mother has spent several years as an MNA representative, it was only recently that she realized the impact her mom was making.
“Her unwavering commitment to the attainment of safe and fair working conditions can be seen through her participation and dedication during recent union negotiations,” Viale said. “Helping those who come after her drives her to engage in activities well outside her comfort zone.”
Geary said she is thankful for all of her colleagues, her fellow bargaining committee members, union allies and everyone in the community who has supported BMC nurses.
“There are two sides to being a nurse; we are both caregivers and fighters,” Geary said. “As caregivers we have dedicated our lives to the well-being of others. We nurse the sick, assist the dying, heal traumas, and console families. We engage in acts of kindness. As caregivers, we are also fighters. We fight disease, we fight for our patient’s rights, and we advocate for their right to adequate baseline health care. Our fight is for safe staffing levels.”
Following the breakfast on Sunday, Oct. 29, BMC nurses and supporters will gather outside the hospital for an informational picket from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Nurses will continue to take public actions, such as their Unity Rally on October 24, as they seek a fair contract that protects safe patient care and properly values and respects RNs.
The nearly 800 registered nurses of Berkshire Medical Center, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, have been seeking a fair contract that ensures safe patient care at their hospital since September 2016.
Nurses held a one-day strike on October 3 and were then locked out of the hospital by BMC management for four additional days. The next bargaining session is scheduled for November 14. Negotiations include a federal mediator.
BMC Nurses Fighting for Safe Patient Care
A pattern of BMC nurses being assigned too many patients to care for at one time, or not having enough support staff, has been jeopardizing safe patient care at the hospital for years. BMC has yet to even agree to modest staffing language in its RN contract to address this problem, such as not making RN staffing worse and reducing or eliminating patient assignments for charge nurses.
“Charge nurses” are responsible for all patients and nurses in their area. If she or he has a patient assignment or an inappropriately high patient assignment, the charge nurse is not able to effectively supervise and assist other nurses. This nurse should be managing the flow of patients, be on hand to assist less experienced nurses with more complex cases, while also picking up patient assignments when staff become overburdened.
BMC has experienced an overall increase in patient volume between 2013 and 2015 of nearly 13 percent and an emergency department visit increase of 26.6 percent, according to hospital profile data from the Center for Health Information and Analysis. Much of that increase has been driven by the illegal closure of North Adams Regional Hospital and the resulting absence of inpatient care for the nearly 40,000 residents of Northern Berkshire County.
BMC nurses and other staff have brought their patient care concerns forward to BMC management in various ways over the last several years, including directly to supervisors, at labor-management meetings, to hospital trustees and during ongoing negotiations.
BMC RNs have also been documenting this problem using unsafe staffing forms. Between October 1, 2015 and Oct. 18, 2017, nurses completed 462 unsafe staffing reports. The forms are a tool used by the nurses to document to management any time they are confronted with care conditions that in their professional judgment places their patients’ safety in jeopardy. Read the reports here.
Quality, Affordable Health Insurance
BMC nurses have repeatedly requested data from BMC that the MNA needs to analyze the hospital’s self-insurance rates as part of a proposal to create an additional “employee +” or “employee plus children” health insurance option. Citing management’s months-long refusal to provide the information, RNs filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against BMC in August. Health insurance is a mandatory subject of bargaining under federal labor law.
BMC has proposed doubling the price nurses pay each month for individual health premiums. Nurses in BMC’s family health insurance plans already pay 40 to 70 percent more than managers. BMC has also refused to consider any plan design, cost sharing, rates or co-payments other than what management first demanded at the beginning of negotiations nearly a year ago.
Berkshire Health Finances
BMC is highly profitable and its parent company Berkshire Health Systems is the dominant health care provider in Berkshire County. Over the last five years, BMC has made a profit of more than $207 million, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis. In 2016 alone, BMC posted a profit of $47.2 million. That is a margin of 9.7% – more than three times the state and regional averages of 3%, making it a real outlier among profitable hospitals. Read the CHIA BMC data here.
Despite this, Berkshire Health executives have repeatedly told nurses that BMC does not have the resources to make significant improvements to patient care. Yet they have managed to find extra revenue to fund large executive salaries. In 2015, CEO David Phelps’ compensation was $863,000 and the top ten executives took home more than $5 million in salary and other benefits.
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.