Nurses Plan Picket Over Contract Disputes

hospitalHYANNIS – The registered nurses at both Cape Cod and Falmouth Hospitals, who are affiliated with the Massachusetts Nurses Association and National Nurses United, plan to conduct two informational pickets on Thursday, December 11 over their concerns that hospital management is aiming to implement several changes to the way that nursing care at the two hospitals is delivered — changes they say jeopardize patient safety.

“Our bargaining unit at Mass Nurses Association at both facilities have been battling this issue with management for several contracts, so we’re hoping to get it settled this time,” said Kimberly Adam, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at Cape Cod Hospital and co-chair for the bargaining unit.

Cape Cod Healthcare management counters that at least one of the issues the nurses are picketing over has already been resolved and that they are committed to concluding the contract negotiations to the satisfaction of both sides.

“We love our nurses. They’ve been a great part of the success we’ve had on Cape Cod  over the last handful of years. We’ve got a lot of quality recognitions the nurses, the physicians and the rest of the staff have earned us. We’re confident that we’ll be able to work with our nurses and get a deal done,” said Patrick J. Kane, senior vice president of marketing, communications and business development at Cape Cod Healthcare.

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The picketing is scheduled for Thursday from 7 to 8 a.m. at Falmouth Hospital and from 2 to 4 p.m. at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.

The changes — which management has presented as proposals in the nurses’ current, contract talks — have become a major sticking point between the two parties and have caused contract negotiations to exceed the 20-session mark, the nurses say.

A federal mediator took part in the last negotiation session. The nurses say they are concerned for both their patients and the future of their nursing practice. They say they hope the picketing will help with progress at the negotiating table.

The key issues that have led the RNs to take to the streets include mandatory overtime, on-call, and floating, the nurses say.

“We are in this for the community. We are the community. The nurses here receive their healthcare at Cape Cod Healthcare and we want what’s best for all of us,” Adam said.

The nurses say that mandatory overtime is an illegal way of staffing a hospital. “It leads leads to exhausted and overworked RNs being forced to care for patients who deserve the care of an alert, rejuvenated nurse. While a law was passed in 2012 to prohibit hospitals from working excessive hours beyond their scheduled shift, management continues to understaff its units, regularly forcing nurses to work overtime, in direct violation of the law.  Numerous studies have found that nurses working excessive overtime are more likely to make medical errors that can harm patients,” according to a release from Jennifer Johnson at the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Management counters that there is nothing illegal in the way that the hospital is staffed. “We’re in full compliance with the law,” Kane said. He said less than one percent of hours are mandatory overtime. “We’re a little surprised they are picketing about that.

The nurses say the on call issue is about use of “a staffing technique that allows the hospital to have as few nurses in the building as possible, while other nurses are scheduled to be on stand-by, ready to come in as quickly as possible should management decide more nurses are needed. The result is that there are never enough RNs in the building to provide appropriate care for patients, while depriving nurses of down time away from the hospital to rest and take care of their own families.  Management wants to use this ill-conceived staffing strategy during peak summer months on its medical/surgical floors,” Johnson wrote in a release.

Management said that as of Tuesday they have taken the on call issue off the bargaining table and have resolved it to the satisfaction of the nurses.

The third major issue of the nurses is known as “floating,” which the nurses say is “another staffing technique that leads to highly skilled RNs who are trained to work in one area of a hospital being forced, on their regular shift, to work on a different floor of a hospital where they are not as skilled or prepared.”

The RNs say they have made it clear to Cape Cod Healthcare management at each of its 21 negotiation sessions that all three practices that they are proposing and/or insisting upon maintaining are dangerous for both patients and nurses, and that staffing a hospital properly is the best way to guarantee a patient’s safety.

Adam said, “We’re not really asking for anything I wouldn’t want for my own family and as a consumer here at the hospital, I think these are really very important.”