09.17.2014The nurses at UMass Memorial/Health Alliance Leominster Hospital were alarmed to learn this week that their CEO Deborah Weymouth has refused to meet with them to hear their serious concerns about the impact of a plan her management team has proposed to cut nursing and support staff, increase nurses’ patient assignments and to reorganize patient care services – a plan the nurses believe will jeopardize the quality and safety of care for every patient entering the hospital. Last week, a delegation of nurses hand delivered petitions opposing the hospital’s plan signed by more than 90 percent of the nurses on staff at the hospital to Weymouth, along with a letter asking for a meeting with Weymouth where she could hear the nurses concerns directly before proceeding with the dangerous changes. At the delivery, Weymouth stated she would be pleased to meet with the nurses, but this week the hospital’s vice president of human resources notified the Massachusetts Nurses Association that Weymouth was reneging on her offer to meet, and would only meet with the nurses after the staffing cuts and service consolidation was implemented. “We are shocked by our CEOs total disregard for the nurses and patients at this hospital as demonstrated by her refusal to hear what we have to say about changes that will impact the safety of our patients. “said Natalie M. Pereira, a nurse at the hospital and chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United. “She is the CEO, the buck stops with her and so does the responsibility for the safety of every patient in this hospital. It is all too clear that she cares more about the bucks than the patients at this facility, which only strengthens nurses’ resolve to speak out about the dangers of this plan.” MNA Appeals to DPH to Reject Health Alliance Plan to Merge the Hospital’s Pediatric and Maternity Unit As part of its effort to stop these changes to patient care delivery, the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United has submitted letters to the Department of Public Health to alert the agency to risks posed to children and newborns under the hospitals plan to merge its pediatric, labor and delivery and maternity units, which are currently separated and distinct units with specialized staff to care for each patient population. To obtain copies of the letters to DPH, contact David Schildmeier at firstname.lastname@example.org; 781-249-0430. The hospital’s plan also calls for the merger of the pediatric, labor and delivery, and maternity units, cutting staff on these units, and expecting nurses who currently specialize in each area to cross train to practice in multiple areas. This proposal goes against what the professional standards for maternity and pediatric care show is best for those patients. The hospital has made an application to DPH to obtain approval for architectural plans to construct a combined unit. They must also seek clinical approval for the mixing of staff to care for these patients. The MNA letters ask DPH to reject the hospital’s application, pointing to faults in the plan that fail to provide necessary structural features to protect mothers and newborns from serious infections. The letters also cite the dangers of the hospital’s plan to require the cross training of nurses to allow nurses who care for sick children to also work with vulnerable newborns and mothers. Below is a key section of the first letter that was mailed to DPH: Leominster’s plans also include assigning nursing staff to cover two very different types of units each with their own special set of risks of hospital acquired infection. Assigning nurses to care for both infected pediatric patients and mothers/neonates at the same time is dangerous and should not be permitted. The risk for cross-contamination and subsequent hospital-acquired infections is high and violates MDPH regulations at 105 CMR 130.740 which state “Nursing personnel regularly assigned to the Pediatric unit or sub-unit shall have this as their primary patient care responsibility.” The rationale behind these long-standing regulations is patient protection, which these plans would violate. Hospital-acquired infections are generally viewed as one of the biggest challenges facing hospitals and public health today, with little progress made to address this problem in the past decade. Leominster’s space and service plans will be an enormous step backwards, rather than progress forward, in addressing this well documented patient safety goal. A second letter was sent to DPH this week to reinforce the MNA/NNU’s position and the dangers of the hospital’s plan, highlighting the recent outbreak of the Enterovirus D68 virus and the risks that would pose to children at Leominster Hospital if these units were merged. The second letter to DPH states: Given the EV068 enterovirus is already taxing the Pedi units and PICUs in other states, who are reporting calling in extra staff to respond, it is clearly more urgent than ever that UMass Leominster not be permitted to place pediatric patients with neonates, as their plans call for. “Any careful examination of the hospitals plans, whether it is the plan to merge these units, or to cut staff in the ED and increase patient assignments on other floors, shows that patients are being at unnecessary risk for injury or harm,” said Theresa Love, a nurse on the pediatric unit and member of the nurses negotiating committee. “The failure of our CEO to even listen to these concerns is shocking to say the least.” The hospital’s plan calls for increasing nurses’ patient assignments from five to six on the hospital’s medical-surgical floor, which research shows increases the risk of death for all those patients by 7 to 14 percent. Management is also proposing cuts to ED staffing, which will mean longer wait times for patients, more boarding of patients, and the likelihood that a patient could suffer a complication because of these delays in care. The Leominster RNs have moved forward with a community awareness campaign to tell the public how a planned downsizing of staff at the hospital could hurt medical care for patients. Nurses have distributed lawn signs and store signs throughout the community that read, “Leominster Nurses Say Staffing Cuts Hurt Us All.” They have also been meeting with local legislators and policymakers to educate them about the dangers of the Health Alliance/UMass staffing cuts. “We want the community to know that reduced staffing will force the remaining RNs to take on higher caseloads, and the impact this will have on our patients,” Pereira said.