CANTON, Mass – Nurses at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United, have reached a tentative agreement with hospital management and Partners HealthCare on a new contract, averting a potential one-day strike that had been authorized by a 90 percent vote by RNs earlier this month.
Patient care improvements were the top priority for NWH nurses in securing a new contract, according to the RNs who took part in negotiations and the hundreds of nurses who shared their concerns about hospital staffing throughout the seven-month process. The deal also includes enhancements to nurses’ working conditions and benefits, and a fair wage increase for all RNs.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement after seven months of challenging negotiations,” said Laurie Andersen, co-chair of the NWH RN bargaining committee and an emergency department nurse at the hospital. “This tentative deal averts a strike and includes important improvements to patient care, including the addition of a nurse ‘Stat Team’ that will assist nurses throughout the hospital as they encounter short staffing and other obstacles while caring for their patients.”
“However,” Andersen said, “final agreement of this deal does not mean Newton-Wellesley nurses are satisfied with Partners HealthCare. We remain troubled by how Partners is treating its patients and nurses, especially considering the corporation’s vast financial resources, and we will continue to advocate every day for the ability to provide the best possible care.”
The two-and-half-year contract, if ratified by the full nurse membership, will have a start date of Oct. 1, 2015 and include a retroactive 1 percent raise for all RNs back to that date. The contract will expire March 31, 2018. The deal was reached late Friday, March 25 after 14 negotiating sessions, and included the participation of a federal mediator. A vote of the full membership has yet to be scheduled.
There were 974 registered nurses at NWH as of the first week of March. Highlights of the agreement include:
• NWH will hire a “Stat Team” that includes two nurses who will not routinely have a patient assignment so they can assist nurses who face additional work due to changes in patient need, admissions or other conditions.
• Restrictions on charge nurse patient assignments. A charge nurse is responsible for all patients and nurses in their area. 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. In addition to current contract language that says staff nurses in charge throughout the hospital will have at least one less patient assignment, the hospital agreed that charge nurses on the day and evening shifts in med/surg units will not regularly have a patient assignment greater than two patients. This is important because having too many patients assigned to them at one time can hinder a charge nurse’s efforts to effectively coordinate patient care and assist other nurses.
• 2 percent across-the-board wage increases for all nurses spread over a two-and-a-half-year period, with the first 1 percent increase retroactive to Oct. 1, 2015. The hospital will complete what is now a half salary step at the top of the scale. Following ratification, the hospital will issue $300 and $150 per nurse bonuses for all nurses depending on their regularly scheduled hours.
• Both parties agreed to adjust the definition of a full-time nurse for health insurance from 40 hours per week to 35 and agreed to an 80-20 health insurance cost split for full-time nurses. This means a substantial savings for nurses in the 35-39 hour range.
• The hospital will guarantee on each unit a minimum of 10 percent of the total productive RN hours for use of planned time, such as vacation time. This is a much higher amount of hours than the hospital is giving out currently.
“The true answer for improving patient care at NWH is boosting core nurse staffing throughout the hospital, but the agreements we reached in that area are a positive step,” said Nancy Anderson, a longtime RN at NWH and co-chair of the MNA/NNU Local Bargaining Unit. “The research here is irrefutable. When nurses spend more time with their patients, providing specialized care and education, those patients do better and are less likely to require re-admission to the hospital.”