BWH/Partners pays executives exorbitant salaries while threatening patient safety by reducing nurse staffing in critical areas; Brigham nurses to announce vote results at press conference outside hospital Monday night
CANTON, Mass. – The 3,300 registered nurses of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), who are negotiating a new contract with the hospital, will vote Monday, June 13 to authorize a one-day strike to fight for safe patient care, equal benefits for new nurses and a fair wage increase.
Nurses are increasingly frustrated that Brigham and Women’s Hospital, under billionaire corporate owner Partners HealthCare, has become less responsive to the needs of its patients and its nurses. Nine months of contract negotiations have thrown into stark relief the ways BWH and Partners disrespect and undervalue the nurses who provide the vast majority of patient care at the hospital.
“This vote and potential strike is really about nurses battling corporate greed by standing up for our patients and our profession,” said Trish Powers, RN OR staff nurse and chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association BWH bargaining unit. “The hospital is clearly more concerned about its profits and paying its executives enormous salaries than providing a safe, caring and respectful environment.”
Details on the vote:
1. Inn at Longwood Medical Center, 342 Longwood Ave., Boston MA from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
2. MNA Headquarters, 340 Turnpike St., Canton MA from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT POTENTIAL STRIKE:
In its recent public messages, the hospital has said it plans to hire 700 temporary nurses to provide patient care during a potential strike. The hospital does not mention that there are 3,300 unionized nurses at the Brigham, nor does it tell the public how unrealistic it is that these 700 replacement nurses could make up for the temporary loss of the Brigham nurses. Nurses at the Brigham are highly trained in specialized care areas, ensuring the safety of some of the sickest patients in the region. They walk the halls of the hospital every day, they know and have worked with the physicians at the hospital and cared for their patients for years, they know the Brigham’s equipment and operating systems and they are trusted by their colleagues.
Without these 3,300 nurses, the Brigham is inoperable.
The hospital has also said publicly that if there is a strike, they anticipate it will last five days. That is misleading. Brigham nurses are voting to authorize a one-day strike. They plan to walkout and not work for one 24-hour period in protest of the hospital and Partners failing to provide a fair contract settlement offer. The hospital has responded by threatening to lock out nurses for four days following the potential strike day. If the hospital locks out nurses when they try to return to their patients after one day, that will be solely the hospital’s decision.
Key outstanding issues:
Safe Staffing TICU/NICU Care
One of the top priorities for Brigham nurses at the bargaining table is patient safety in the thoracic intermediate care unit (TICU). This unit treats patients who have had lung transplants, heated chemotherapy and other serious procedures. The hospital recently admitted that it reduced nurse staff during day shifts in the TICU to make up for a shortage on the night shifts. This “smoothing” of the schedule, as they termed it, endangers patients all around because there are now fewer nurses than necessary for safe care on both shifts. The MNA’s proposal is to ensure safe nurse staffing levels in the TICU.
Maureen Tapper is a nurse-in-charge in the TICU. She has worked at the Brigham and in the TICU for more than 12 years. Along with her fellow TICU nurses, she cares for some of the sickest patients in the hospital. These complex patients require constant, vigilant nursing care to prevent potentially life-threatening complications.
“Many of our patients struggle to breathe,” Tapper said. “These patients and families need emotional as well as physical support. The reduction in nurse staffing severely impacts the care the patients so greatly need. Nurses are struggling to provide the best possible quality care in a safe environment. This decrease in staffing by the hospital places both patients and nurses at risk. Our patients deserve better.”
The hospital has also attempted to implement smart phones in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) without input from staff nurses. These phones will take nurses away from the bedside, where they should be providing direct care to some of the sickest babies in the region. They would be used to forward alarms to the primary nurse, then to a back-up nurse and then to third nurse if the previous nurses were unable to respond, resulting in potentially devastating delays in care. Nurses have posed a number of questions about these phones, which the hospital has yet to fully answer. Serious concerns remain.
Equal Benefits for all Nurses
The hospital is seeking to force all newly hired nurses into lesser benefit programs. These proposals are an attempt to union bust by removing the ability of nurses to collectively negotiate their health benefits and by creating a two-tiered benefit system for nurses.
Flex insurance is a hospital-controlled health insurance program not subject to bargaining. Six years ago, the hospital lured nurses in with low rates and then part-time nurses saw their premiums double to quadruple in just one year.
Benefit time provides eight fewer days off per year than the traditional time-off system. It also takes away nurses’ choice on when and how to use different types of time off and forces them to use days they may not have otherwise used when taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The hospital is offering only a 1% across-the-board salary increase over three years for all nurses, along with 0.5% to nurses at the top of the salary scale.
The hospital has said it is “unreasonable” to provide a fair wage increase to all nurses. Yet BWH CEO Dr. Elizabeth Nabel received an 18 percent raise between 2012 and 2013, including a $500,000 bonus. Her wages rose to $2.38 million. As the Boston Globe recently revealed, Dr. Nabel holds three other paying positions outside BWH. One of those – a board seat on the Dublin-based technology company Medtronic – pays Nabel at least $175,000 annually to attend just four regular board meetings.
For years, BWH has been affiliated with Partners HealthCare. Partners is the most profitable health care employer in the state, posting profits in fiscal year 2014 alone of more than $600 million, with revenues in excess of $10.9 billion, according to state financial filings. From 2010 to 2014, Partners made more than $1.9 billion in profits, including nearly $100 million stashed in off-shore tax havens such as the Cayman Islands. BWH itself made $152 million in profits in 2014.
A non-profit like Partners should be investing this fortune in health care for the communities it serves and in the employees who provide that care. Instead, Partners uses its enormous profits to enrich its top executives. The five highest paid Partners executives got a nearly $1.3 million combined pay hike from 2013 to 2014, equaling a 23 percent increase in salaries.
“Nurses are standing together to fight for safe patient care, equal benefits for every nurse and a fair wage increase,” said Kelly Morgan, a labor and delivery nurse and vice chair of the MNA Bargaining Unit. “If Partners can afford huge pay hikes for its top executives, it can afford to invest in quality care and the nurses who provide the majority of that care.”
Nurses have been negotiating since September 2015 to reach an agreement to replace the contract that was scheduled to expire Sept. 30, 2015. They have participated in 19 bargaining sessions to date. There are no other negotiating dates scheduled.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United 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 a founding member of National Nurses United, the largest national nurses’ union in the United States with more than 170,000 members from coast