The 350 registered nurses and health care professionals (HCPs) of Steward Healthcare’s Morton Hospital in Taunton, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), voted Thursday to ratify a new union contract that requires increased nurse staffing levels and safe patient assignments for nurses, enhances hospital security and includes wage and benefit improvements to help recruit and retain the staff needed to ensure quality patient care.
“We are very pleased to have negotiated and now ratified this agreement, but the biggest winners in this negotiation will be our patients who stand to receive better care as a result of the significant improvements in staffing and patient care conditions included in this agreement,” said Jacqui Fitts, RN, chair of Morton’s MNA local bargaining unit and an RN in the hospital’s maternity unit.
The new MNA contract includes the following improvements:
On the hospital’s medical-surgical floors, where most patients stay, a resource nurse will be added to every night shift and nurses’ patient assignments will be reduced to four or five patients assigned to an RN at any given time on the day and evening shifts (depending on the needs of the patients), and no more than six patients on the night shift. Nurses pursued these changes citing medical research showing similar limits improve patient outcomes and significantly diminish the likelihood for negative outcomes.
For the care of critically ill patients, the contract includes language saying no nurse will be disciplined for refusing to accept an assignment beyond the requirements of the state’s intensive care unit staffing law. The law sets a safe maximum number of ICU patients an individual RN can be assigned at one time ¬ one, or if both patients are stable, two.
Steward Morton also has agreed to provide additional nurses to care for psychiatric patients on the hospitals’ behavioral health unit. The contact also includes language obligating hospital management to recruit and hire enough staff to meet all the staffing requirements called for in the contract, which is a key component of the agreement. Under the agreement, the staffing improvements in the new contract will be phased in over a period of eight months.
In addition, health care professionals at the facility, including pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, lab technologists, audiologists, speech and language pathologists, who came into the negotiations with wage rates significantly behind the market, will see more significant pay hikes, ranging from 10 – 22 percent over the three-year contract.
The negotiations for the new contract began in October, with the nurses and health professionals taking the unusual step of voting ahead of negotiations to authorize a one-day strike should Steward Morton management fail to reach a good faith settlement that provided the patient care improvements the nurses sought. Fortunately, Steward Morton came to the table and worked with the staff over four months to hammer out a strong contract, with the final agreement reached on February 3.
“We are very proud of this agreement,” said Allison Gomes, secretary of the bargaining unit and a nurse in the emergency department. “This contract is a clear victory for every nurse and health professional at Morton Hospital, who from the very outset of these negotiations, made it clear they were ready to do whatever was necessary to ensure a new contract that would be the best for our patients, for their clinical practice, and the future of this hospital and the community we serve.”