Below you will find a selection of the great news coverage our demonstration garnered yesterday. Please share with your email networks.
December 20, 2011, 7:05 pmNINA BERNSTEIN
Ruth Fremson/The New York TimesNurses protesting on Tuesday outside the headquarters of Cerberus Capital Management, which operates several hospitals, used inflatable dogs instead of the familiar inflatable rats.
Instead of the inflatable rat that has become ho-hum at union protests in New York, a giant three-headed dog with fangs was the effigy on display as about 250 unionized nurses rallied outside the Midtown headquarters of the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.
Last year the firm added 10 mostly Catholic community hospitals in the Boston area to its portfolio, promising to keep the same level of services or to provide even better services. But carrying signs that proclaimed “Cerberus Is a Lying Dog,” and that urged “Get Wall Street Out of Health Care,” members of the nurses’ union, National Nurses United, accused the firm of proving to be more like its namesake, the canine monster in Greek mythology that guarded the gates of hell.
“The Cerberus company has created a hell of its own,” said Karen Higgins, a co-president of the national union, echoing charges by its Massachusetts affiliate that Steward, the health care company created by Cerberus, has cut patient care to increase its profits.
Among the speakers outside Cerberus’s headquarters at 49th Street and Park Avenue were two nurses who told of corporate consultants cutting the amount of juice and bread available for patients at night at two Cerberus-operated hospitals.
Another nurse said that after she organized a union at a third hospital, a minor medication error was used as the pretext to fire her.
Christopher Murphy, a spokesman for Steward, called the allegations “totally fabricated” as part of a dispute over pensions, which is now in arbitration. The union’s campaign “has nothing to do with improving health care or even the conditions of their own nurses,” who are highly paid and working at award-winning hospitals, he said. “It is an attempt to pressure our hospitals to provide richer benefits.”
Cerberus, which manages about $20 billion in capital and owns companies with revenue of about $40 billion, is known for its ill-fated purchase of Chrysler before the government stepped in, and its more recent acquisition of major gun manufacturers. The nurses took advantage of its name to sing carols with a twist to bemused passersby, like “Dogs of hell, Dogs of hell,” to the tune of Jingle Bells, and “Who Let the Dogs Out.”
Cerberus dogged over pensions, patient care
By Jerry Kronenberg
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
BIG APPLE PROTEST: Nurses from Bay State hospitals owned by Cerberus Capital Management picket the firm’s New York offices, criticizing the treatment of patients.
Unionized nurses are upping their dosage of anger at Hub hospital owner Cerberus Capital Management, picketing the firm’s Manhattan offices amid contract disputes and alleged nickel-and-diming of patient care.
“Patients should come first, but that’s not Cerberus’ priority. Their priority is making a profit (by) decreasing patient care,” said Boston nurse Karen Higgins, one of some 400 people who protested outside the private-equity firm’s Park Avenue offices yesterday.
Cerberus Capital’s Steward Health Care System unit bought the Boston Archdiocese’s struggling Caritas Christi hospital system last year for $850 million.
The for-profit chain has also acquired four more Massachusetts and Rhode Island hospitals.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association union originally supported those deals, but its relationship with management has since cooled.
Steward claims the union is just trying to extract a better pension plan than the two sides agreed to last year.
“The Massachusetts Nursing Association is upset with their benefits package, so they attack us and say we don’t have good quality,” company spokesman Chris Murphy said. “As soon as you give them what they want, suddenly their quality concerns go away.”
But nurses claim Steward is not only playing hardball with them, but also pinching pennies with patients.
Norwood Hospital nurse Kathy Reardon said management recently reduced how much bread, juice, milk and graham crackers it stocks for patients after the facility’s kitchen closes.
“This isn’t about greedy nurses wanting more money,” she said. “We’re doing this to advocate for our patients.”
The two sides have been fighting for months over a variety of issues, such as contract terms at Quincy Medical Center and Methuen’s Holy Family Hospital.
Workers and management also disagree about specifics of a pension plan Steward agreed to create as part of a five-year pact with Caritas nurses.
Management wants to set pension benefits using nurses’ base pay, while the union is demanding Steward count overtime and other things that would boost payouts.
Nurses also want the company to participate in a multi-employer pension plan, rather than one that’s just for Steward employees.
However, Murphy said doing so would put the firm on the hook for non-Steward nurses’ pensions if other companies go under.
Mark Brenner, Mischa Gaus
| December 20, 2011
Nurses sang sour carols today to the private equity firm they say is starving Massachusetts hospitals and pitting workers against each other.
Massachusetts nurses came to the headquarters of Cerberus Capital in Manhattan because Cerberus is the money behind Steward Health Systems, which took over the troubled Catholic hospital system Caritas last year and now is squeezing patients and workers for ultra-profits.
Hundreds of fellow members of National Nurses United, the Massachusetts nurses’ national union, sang and chanted outside Cerberus this afternoon.
Realizing that private equity firms specialize in stripping troubled businesses down and flipping them to new owners, the Massachusetts Nurses Association had insisted during the takeover on guarantees that practices and specialties could not be phased out.
Hospital workers did take concessions, but MNA secured a multi-employer pension plan and set the stage for negotiating with the chain collectively across four of its hospitals rather than one by one.
Now Steward is challenging MNA’s pension plan, closing down units, and threatening to shutter whole hospitals in order to get nurses to open up their contracts.
“Their whole pitch was to keep the community hospitals alive,” said Linda Tasker, a telemetry nurse at Merrimack Valley Hospital. “But they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and picking out the hospitals that will make the most money.”
Steward is also laying off many staff nurses—especially those at the top of the seniority list and pay scale.
Victoria Webster and Lynne Blanchard were two of 13 nurses fired in May at Carney hospital’s psychiatric unit in Dorchester. They say the firings, which included 19 mental health counselors, came after they blew the whistle on patient violence and poor staffing at the facility. Steward hired a crop of inexperienced new nurses, they say.
Nurses say the search for cost savings is reaching extremes.
When a floor is short-staffed, nurses say, local hospital administrators can’t hire per-diem contract nurses without corporate approval.
“We can’t even give patients a cup of coffee,” said Cheryl Laorenza, a psychiatric nurse at Holy Family hospital in Methuen. Nurses at the Norwood hospital campaigned around Steward’s food cutbacks—they brought loaves of bread to the floor and tacked a picture on the bulletin board with the caption “Got Bread?”
Jane Emery, a telemetry nurse at Merrimack Valley Hospital, said administrators are turning the temperature down on the heating blankets in chemotherapy to save on electricity.
Administrators won’t provide them with enough alarms to warn when patients are at risk of falling out of bed—but if they do fall, the nurse gets the blame for not responding fast enough. “People are so fearful,” Emery said.
Patients are signing themselves out of the hospital against medical advice, she added, because administrators keep them waiting on stretchers for hours until enough patients accumulate to open another floor.
Steward is breaking its promises, MNA says.
The union says that in the limited master agreement negotiated during Steward’s acquisition of Caritas, it not only won the pension plan but also secured guarantees to maintain services and funding.
But now the union says Steward is slowly turning the spigot off, closing down a specialized unit at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, consolidating lab tech services, and demanding aggressive concessions from workers.
The Service Employees union, which represents service workers at the Steward hospitals, signaled its openness to proposed takeaways.
When MNA would not, SEIU put out worksite flyers repeating the boss’s accusation that resisting cuts imperils the hospital chain’s future—which infuriated the nurses.
“It is our understanding,” the SEIU leaflet reads, “that the MNA plan adds costs to the system that the system cannot afford without further layoffs, program closures and potentially closure of hospitals.”
MNA wants to hold the line. The nurses are looking to repair staffing levels, protect benefits, and keep the community hospitals open until Cerberus starts looking for the next big thing to exploit.
By Marc Larocque
Posted Dec 21, 2011 @ 12:21 AM
Taunton — Janet DeMoranville is standing up against a private equity investment firm that now owns Morton Hospital, where she has worked for 13 years, saying the company is more concerned about profits than patients.
“They are just out to make money,” said DeMoranville, describing the motives of Cerberus, which has bought 10 hospitals in Massachusetts, including Morton, as part of Steward Health Care.
“They don’t care how they do it, or what cuts they have to make to get it. They have to realize that health care is not a money-making business. It’s a patient care industry. That’s what it needs to be about.”
DeMoranville was one of five Morton nurses who joined more than 100 other nurses from the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) and hundreds from other states to protest Cerberus at the firm’s corporate headquarters in New York on Tuesday afternoon. The protest, which received the support of the Occupy Wall Street movement, featured chants against Cerberus, speeches by nurses, and a giant, inflatable three-headed dog with fangs used to mock the firm’s fictional namesake — a canine monster in Greek mythology that guarded the gates of hell.
DeMoranville said although there have been no cuts to services or layoffs at Morton since Steward took over in September, she has seen the way the company and its corporate parent have treated the other nine hospitals in its Massachusetts health care system.
“We are just looking for some security for nurses who have put time and effort to help take care of the patients for so long,” DeMoranville said. “Initially, we were happy Steward was coming. A lot of hospitals they took over were in trouble. But since then they have been making it harder for nurses at these hospitals to care for patients.”
Some of the MNA’s main problems so far with Steward include the firing of 13 nurses in a psychiatric care unit at Carney Hospital after a non-nursing employee assaulted a patient; the firing of a nurse in retaliation for union activity at Holy Family Hospital Methuen for a minor medical error (when she should have received a warning, they say); and the slashing of the intensive care unit at Carney Hospital in half from 14 to six beds with 10 nursing layoffs since Steward took over.
Representatives for the MNA singled out Steward and Cerberus for one issue, slamming them for skimping out on bread and juice used to stabilize patients at Norwood Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton. MNA spokesperson David Schildmeier said that is unacceptable for Cerberus, which bought Chrysler in 2007 before another company bought it last year and has become involved in the arms industry, said that this was ridiculous.
“When the owner of Chrysler can’t provide a loaf of bread to patients, that symbolizes something being very wrong,” Schildmeier said.
One of the issues that concerns many nurses, including DeMoranville, is Steward’s pension negotiations with nurses at the Caritas hospitals. Schildmeier said Steward has “renegged” on an agreement to maintain the pension plans for nurses at its former Caritas hospital facilities, and the issue is now in arbitration.
However, Steward spokesperson Christopher Murphy, a spokesman for Steward, called the allegations “totally fabricated,” and said the MNA is pursuing a “militant national agenda” at the expense of patients and the hospital communities.
Murphy said the protest was solely aimed at the nurses at Caritas hospitals getting the pensions they want when “the hospitals don’t have the money.” Additionally, Murphy said Steward had submitted a defined benefit pension plan that matches mutually agreed-upon terms with the MNA, but that the nursing association refused to sign.
Murphy also said the MNA's claims that the terms of the defined benefit plan submitted by Steward do not meet the negotiated terms is directly refuted by the MNA Executive Director Julie Pinkham who testified under oath at a recent arbitration hearing that the items in the limited master agreement between MNA and Steward were included in the plan submitted by Steward, adding that a proposed plan submitted by the MNA to Steward does not contain the mutually agreed-upon terms outlined in the limited master agreement.
Murphy also argued that Steward nurses are actually in the top five percent for national nurse compensation, with a median annual compensation for their nurses is $152,000 a year, while the MNA has disputed that stating that the average is about $80,000.
By Marc Larocque
Posted Dec 19, 2011 @ 11:29 PM
Nurses from throughout Massachusetts, including nurses from Taunton’s Morton Hospital, will be in New York today to protest Steward Health Care and its owner Cerberus, one of the largest private equity investment firms in the country, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
“The reason that we are demonstrating there is that Steward would have you believe they are just this local company whose only interest is hospitals and communities of the hospitals which they own and operate,” said David Schildmeier, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA). “But they are an arm of a mega Wall Street equity firm that is entering the health care market. We are pointing a finger (that) when huge Wall Street firms gets involved in health care, you have to be concerned about it.”
The protest is scheduled to take place near the Cerberus corporate office at 12:30 p.m.
The MNA claims that Steward is slashing hospital budgets, lowering staffing levels by laying off nurses and not replacing retired workers, and treating patients “like products on an assembly line.” Schildmeier said none of this has taken place at Morton Hospital, but he said nurses there fear that similar tactics can be used in Taunton.
Steward Health Care is firing back, claiming that the MNA is misleading the public as they pursue “a militant national agenda at the expense of patients and the community.”
Chris Murphy, a spokesman for Steward, said, “They will stop at nothing to advance their national agenda even if it means denigrating the hospitals where they have spent their careers,” adding that, “This is about creating conflict, period.”
While Schildmeier acknowledges that Steward “saved” facilities like Morton Hospital by buying the financially troubled institutions and investing money in infrastructure, he said “as soon as the ink is dry they are going and making all these cuts” and have become harsh employers, as far as how they treat their nurses.
Morton was bought by Steward after Attorney General Martha Coakley approved the acquisition in September — through a deal that requires Steward to retain workers and invest $25 million in capital, and prevents the group from transferring ownership for five years. Now, Steward has a total of 10 hospitals in the state.
Reasons for protest
Schildmeier said cuts that Steward has made at other hospitals include the firing of 13 nurses in a psychiatric care unit at Carney Hospital after a non-nursing employee assaulted a patient; and the firing of a nurse who was an active union organizer at Holy Family Hospital Methuen for a minor medical error (when she should have received a warning, Schildmeier said). Schildmeier said that at Carney Hospital the intensive care unit was slashed in half from 14 to six beds with 10 nursing layoffs since Steward took over.
In addition to that, Schildmeier said, the company is not providing foods like crackers, bread and cranberry juice to help stabilize patients at Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton and Norwood Hospital. Schildmeier said that is unacceptable for Cerberus, which bought Chrysler in 2007 before selling it last year, to skimp out on its nurses and patients.
“When the owner of Chrysler can’t provide a loaf of bread to patients, that symbolizes something being very wrong,” Schildmeier said.
Another specific issue, Schildmeier said, is that Steward has “renegged” on an agreement to maintain the pension plans for nurses at its former Caritas hospital facilities. The issue is now in arbitration.
“They are saying if they give the nurses their pension they'll have to close the hospital,” Schildmeier said. “They say if we keep on demanding the pension we promise you we can’t afford that and have to close services and entire hospitals. This from the company that owned Chrysler. It's important for people to know who they are dealing with. We want these hospitals to succeed. We want Steward to succeed. They are investing a lot of money into the bricks and mortar to keep hospitals afloat. But we shouldn't attack people who deliver that care. We can have good care, good treatment of employees and have a very successful profitable hospital.”
Schildmeier also said that the MNA would be supported by the Occupy Wall Street movement during today’s protest.
Aiming for negotiation
Murphy, of Steward, said that the MNA protest is a negotiating tactic that is all about the pension plans and denied the various claims made by the MNA. Murphy said that the MNA called them on Monday and said they would cancel the protest if the arbitration “gives them the pension they want,” but Murphy added that “the hospitals don't have the money” for the pension benefits requested by the nurses.
Murphy said Steward has submitted a defined benefit pension plan that matches mutually agreed upon terms with the MNA, but that the nursing association has refused to sign. Murphy said the MNA's claims that the terms of the defined benefit plan submitted by Steward do not meet the negotiated terms is directly refuted by the MNA Executive Director Julie Pinkham who testified under oath at a recent arbitration hearing that the items in the limited master agreement between MNA and Steward were included in the plan submitted by Steward. Murphy added that a proposed plan submitted by the MNA to Steward does not contain the mutually agreed upon terms outlined in the limited master agreement.
“The request for a richer than agreed upon plan is the sole true agenda item,” Murphy said. “The only way to enrich MNA labor contracts would be by forcing rate increases and premium increases on a community that cannot afford it.”
Defending against accusations
Murphy said Steward nurses are actually in the top five percent for national nurse compensation; the median annual compensation for their nurses is $152,000 a year.
Murphy denied the accusation that Steward is sacrificing patient quality and denying basic patient supplies, and said that if there wasn't food on a floor at a hospital, it should be reported and then it would be fixed.
Murphy said that quality at Steward hospitals has improved since it took over, with a 19.2 percent reduction in mortality and 80 percent reduction in drug-resistant infections.
Murphy said no nurses that have spoken out against Steward have been fired.
Massachusetts nurses from hospitals owned by the new private-equity-backed Steward Health Care organization will take part in a protest in New York tomorrow.
Nurses from a number of states will converge at the offices of Steward's parent firm, Cerberus Capital Management, to protest the involvement of profit-motivated private equity firms in the health care market.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association claims that Steward, which owns the former Caritas Christi hospitals in the Boston area as well as Merrimack Valley Hospital in Haverhill and Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer, has cut staffing and fired nurses who raised concerns about patient care.
Christopher Murphy, a spokesman for Steward, called the protest a negotiating tactic for union nurses who are in contract talks. He said staffing has not been cut at the hospitals and staff would not be fired for speaking about patient care issues.
By Steve Adams
Nurses from Quincy Medical Center and nine other Boston-area hospitals planned to travel to New York today to protest the business practices of their new owners, Steward Health Care System.
Nurses planned a protest outside the offices of private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, Steward’s parent company.
Boston-based Steward has introduced cost-cutting measures that harm patient care, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association and National Nurses United.
Staffing levels have been reduced and specialty units eliminated since Steward took ownership of the hospitals, the nurses’ groups said.
A Steward spokesman disputed the group’s claims, saying that all of the hospitals’ major services are intact, although they frequently adjust staffing and programs based upon patient demand.
“Sometimes smaller service lines change because community needs change,” Steward spokesman Chris Murphy said.
Murphy tied this week’s protest to nurses’ ongoing dispute with the company over their pension plan. At a hearing in August, nurses testified that Steward would not agree to a pension plan they had negotiated with previous owner Caritas Christi hospitals.
Murphy defended Steward nurses’ compensation packages, saying they had a contractually obligated 25-percent wage increase coming over the next four years.
“They are very well paid,” Murphy said. “The nurses in these hospitals and the MNA leadership never complain about quality unless it’s negotiation time.”
Nurses also criticized Steward’s recently announced partnership with the Compass Medical group of 90 doctors south of Boston. Compass had previously been aligned with Partners HealthCare. The move means that Compass physicians will likely refer more patients to Steward-owned hospitals rather than nonprofit hospitals, potentially disrupting the balance of competition in the industry, the nurses group said.
Attorney General Martha Coakley approved the sale of QMC to Steward with the condition that it invest up to $54 million on the facility over the next decade.
Steve Adams may be reached at email@example.com.
READ MORE about this issue.
Monday, December 19, 2011 10:08 AM
Nurses Warn: Wall Street Targeting Hospitals for Profits
Cerberus Private Equity's Steward Health unit called "predatory"; Patient care down
"The cupboards are bare" – Steward Nurses Say
MNA nurses will be attending from Cerberus-Steward owned Carney Hospital, Good Samaritan Medical Center, Holy Family Hospital, Merrimack Valley Hospital, Morton Hospital, Norwood Hospital, Quincy Medical Center and St. Elizabeth's Medical Center
New York City - Hundreds of nurses and their supporters from across the U.S. will converge outside the offices of Cerberus Capital Management, 299 Park Avenue, on Tuesday, Dec. 20, at 12:30 p.m., to protest the practices of the multi-billion dollar private equity firm's health care unit, Steward Health Care System. Cerberus-Steward now operates 10 hospitals in Massachusetts, has partnered with a number of physician practices here, and is now entering the health insurance market as well. Cerberus-Steward has come under increasing criticism for cornering the market with predatory practices, undercutting patient care with its push for profits.
The nurses -- from Massachusetts, and joined by RNs from NY, DC, CA, IL, PA and NV -- are members of National Nurses United, the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in the U.S., with 170,000 members. Nurses, allies and Occupy Wall Street protesters will speak at the rally, which will also feature theater and a 10-foot, three-headed dog, "Cerberus," the mythical canine at the Gates of Hell.
"As patient advocates on the frontlines, nurses are sounding the alarm about the entrance of cut-throat private equity firms, like Cerberus, into the health care marketplace," said Karen Higgins, RN and co-president, National Nurses United. "It is a development that spells danger for patients and communities across the country."
Cerberus owns an array of businesses, including the Freedom Group subsidiary – leading manufacturer of guns and ammunition. Last year it added the chain of hospitals to its portfolio.
Nurses who work at those hospitals say that Cerberus-Steward has failed to maintain quality patient care standards at the Massachusetts facilities in contravention of an agreement reached with the state and with its employees. The okay for the profit maker to take control of the non-profit facilities was tied to keeping patient care a top priority.