PITTSFIELD, Mass – Berkshire Medical Center (BMC) nurses, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), will hold an informational picket on Tuesday, Feb. 28 to call attention to the hospital’s failure during ongoing contract negotiations to agree to improved nurse staffing levels that will ensure safe and effective patient care.
When: Tuesday, Feb. 28 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Outside Berkshire Medical Center at 725 North St. Pittsfield, MA
Who: Press and the public welcome; the registered nurses of Berkshire Medical Center,
along with their family, friends and community supporters.
BMC nurses have become increasingly concerned about the safety of their patients. Over the last several years, there has been a significant increase in BMC's patient census due to the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital. In spite of nurses' concerns about unsafe staffing in nearly every unit of the hospital, last year BMC management increased the number of patients that nurses would be required to care for at one time in seven hospital units.
BMC nurses talk about their experience with unsafe staffing:
Mark Brodeur, RN, Post-Anesthesia Care Unit
“Unsafe staffing at BMC is trying to care for a 10-day-old baby with a severe infection while having 12 other patients at the same time. The baby needed bloodwork, urine samples, constant monitoring and support for its very worried new parents. My 12 other patients also required assessment and care. While all this was happening, my nursing assistant was pulled down to the cardiac area to perform CPR. I felt alone because of the lack of resources. I felt scared for my patients and their loved ones. Our community deserves better than this. Making sure our patients are safe matters more than profit margins and management bonuses.”
Marie Geary, RN, Psychiatric Unit
“Unsafe staffing is a serious issue in the hospital’s psychiatric and detox units. Psychiatric patients often also have medical complications. Their condition can change rapidly, and so keeping them safe while providing appropriate mental health care requires having enough nurses at one time.”
Erin Ramsey, RN, Emergency Department
“The BMC emergency room is not staffed for a bad day, and a bad day is what we are here for. Our ED is frequently filled with a complicated mix of patients, but the hospital is decreasing how many nurses are working at one time. The expansion of urgent care centers means the BMC ED sees more patients who are very sick. We need an appropriate number of nurses to provide safe care.”
Krystal Poulen, RN, Medical-Surgical Unit
“Increasing admissions and sicker patients throughout the hospital has hit our medical-surgical units particularly hard. Our patients are sicker than ever, yet we have less time to care for and educate them. We care for patients with significant complications, many of whom should be in specialized units.”
Ruth O’Hearn, RN, Emergency Department in North Adams
“Unsafe staffing is also a serious problem at the BMC emergency department in North Adams. BMC’s original plan was to use the ED as a satellite facility that served patients who are less sick than those sent to BMC in Pittsfield. But that has not happened. The North Adams ED is getting a high volume of patients and many critically ill patients. Yet BMC has provided limited nursing and other staff, leaving patients underserved.
“We are not providing the level of patient care we should because BMC does not staff appropriately. We do not have enough nurses to safely care for patients who require sudden medical interventions, especially on overnight shifts. Our patient volume and their serious level of illness justifies adding more staff in North Adams to ensure safe care.”
Alex Neary, RN, Intensive Care Unit
“I have worked as a registered nurse at Berkshire Medical Center for 40 years. During that time I have seen a lot of changes. Patients admitted to the hospital are sicker than ever. Yet nurses have less time to spend with each patient. That means less time for treatment and less time to educate patients about their care. My fellow nurses and I are proud of the patient care we provide. But we are also concerned about the quality of that care. Keeping patients safe is the number one priority for every BMC nurse. Unfortunately, the hospital refuses to agree to our evidence-based, common-sense solution to ensure safe patient care.”
Between October 2015 and January 2017, nurses filed 321 unsafe staffing forms documenting times when there were not enough nurses to care for the number of patients and/or the serious level of illness or injury of the patients on a unit. That number does not include the many more times when nurses encountered unsafe patient care situations but were unable to document the incidents.
To address the problem, BMC nurses have proposed placing safe staffing levels or safe patient limits for nurses into their contract. These proposals would be variable based on the type of hospital unit, how many patients are on a unit at any given time and/or the acuity of patients. Years of research shows that when nurses have fewer patients at once, patient outcomes improve and there are lower rates of injury, medication errors and unplanned re-admissions.
BMC nurses have pointed out in negotiations that there is no financial reason why BMC cannot provide safe patient care at all times. BMC posted profit margins more than twice the state and regional averages between 2011 and 2015, making a profit of $181 million, according to the Massachusetts Center for Health and Information Analysis. The hospital made a profit of $35.2 million in fiscal year 2015 and $31.2 million in 2016, according to BMC’s own audited financial reporting.
The nurses' previous contract with the hospital expired on Sept. 30, 2016, but was extended. Negotiations between the MNA and BMC began in October 2016. To date 16 negotiating sessions have been held, with the next session scheduled for March 10.
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.