CANTON, Mass. – The registered nurses of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, who are negotiating a new contract with Partners HealthCare, have submitted the required 10-day notice to conduct an informational picket outside the Newton-based hospital on Wednesday, March 9 from 3 – 5 p.m.
The nearly 1,000 nurses at NWH, organized with Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United (MNA/NNU), also plan to vote to authorize a strike at the hospital after trying unsuccessfully for months to negotiate with NWH/Partners improvements in patient care, working conditions and nurse wages.
Contract talks have stalled because nurses say the decision-makers at the highly profitable Partners HealthCare seem to care more about maintaining profit margins than they care about the value of staff nurses who contribute 90 percent of patient care at the hospital. Nurses are taking to the sidewalk in front of NWH at 2014 Washington St. in Newton on Wednesday to share their concerns with the public.
“Many areas of the hospital have staffing levels that are inconsistent and disrespectful to patients. Yet Partners refuses to value nurses over profits,” said Laurie Andersen, a registered nurse in the emergency department at NWH and co-chair of the MNA/NNU Local Bargaining Unit. “Partners has refused to engage with nurses on the bargaining committee about a serious patient care proposal and has not agreed to a reasonable wage increase, even as Partners asks nurses to pay more for health insurance.”
The strike authorization vote has been scheduled to take place throughout the day and into the evening on Wednesday, March 9. Nurses at NWH will cast their strike authorization vote by secret ballot outside the hospital. Voting will take place from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The vote does not mean the nurses will strike immediately. It gives the negotiating committee the authorization to call a one-day strike if and when they feel it is necessary. If the committee issues its official notice to strike, the hospital will then have 10 days before the nurses will go out on strike.
Nurses Seek Ways to Improve Patient Care
Despite hearing from many experienced registered nurses, NWH and Partners HealthCare have refused to agree to a proposal nurses believe would improve patient care. Nurses have fought for a number of other care proposals during contract negotiations as well.
Staff nurses in charge should not have a patient assignment except in certain circumstances. A “charge nurse” is responsible for all patients and nurses in their area. If she has a patient assignment, she 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.
“We are conducting this picket to educate the public about how the issues at stake in these negotiations impact the quality and safety of their hospital care,” said Nancy Anderson, a longtime RN at NWH and co-chair of the MNA/NNU Local Bargaining Unit. “A proposal such as charge nurses having no patient assignment would improve patient outcomes throughout the hospital.”
Non-Profit Partners Holds Tight to Profits
For years, NWH has been affiliated with Partners HealthCare. The Partners system is the most profitable health care employer in the state, posting profits in 2014 alone of more than $120 million, with revenues in excess of $10.9 billion, according to state tax filings. From 2010 to 2014, Partners made more than $1.9 billion in profit. NWH alone has made $50 million in profits over the last three years.
A non-profit organization 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% increase in salaries. The five highest paid NWH positions saw a combined salary increase of 14% over the same time period.
By comparison, during the current bargaining session, Partners is holding up a settlement, in part, over just 1% in nurse pay.
“Partners HealthCare is a non-profit organization that has generated nearly $2 billion in profits over the last five years,” Andersen said. “For Partners to make that kind of money and yet refuse to invest in meaningful improvements to patient care and nurses is disrespectful to the communities Partners serves and insulting to the nurses it employs.”
The parties at NWH began negotiations on Sept. 2, 2015 and to date 12 sessions have been held. The contract had an expiration date of September 30, 2015. A federal mediator is expected to schedule the next session between the parties at NWH.