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New England News

Union Nurses Set To Picket Over Staffing Levels, Work Environment At BMC

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Facebook: Berkshire Medical Center
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Nurses from Berkshire Medical Center are planning an informational picket next week. They say the Pittsfield hospital is not properly staffed for a patient increase following the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital. The hospital is refuting the claims.Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents some 650 registered nurses at BMC, plan to picket outside the hospital Dec. 10th. Union spokesman David Schildmeier says BMC’s patient load has increased 20 percent since North Adams Regional Hospital, about 20 miles away, closed in March.

“So what we have are nurses working overwhelmed by heavy patient loads and pressure by management to move patients through the system faster without the support and resources they need to deliver safe patient care,” said Schildmeier.

BMC spokesman Michael Leary says the figures are false.

“We know we have experienced a higher volume of patients since the closure, which we had expected would happen and which we planned for very quickly, it’s actually much closer to 10 percent and our staffing and hiring of new staff is consistent with that 10 percent increase,” said Leary.

When Northern Berkshire Healthcare, parent company of NARH, filed bankruptcy in April, it put some 530 people out of work. BMC has hired 215 of them, including 47 registered nurses, while buying the North Adams campus where it operates a satellite emergency facility. Nineteen of the 47 primarily work in Pittsfield, the rest in North Adams. Leary says 27 additional registered nurses have been hired to work at BMC’s Pittsfield campus in recent months.

The MNA also claims BMC is breaking a recently passed law capping the patient-to-nurse ratio at 2:1 in intensive care units, based on nurse discretion. Schildmeier says the ratio at BMC exceeds that when nurses take breaks or transfer patients.

“So we have nurses routinely taking three or four patients, now granted, it’s not for a full shift, but in the ICU within 10 minutes a patient can go from perfectly OK to on death’s door because that’s how critically ill they are,” said Schildmeier.

BMC’s Leary says the hospital is in full compliance with the ICU statute.

“In addition, by the way, BMC had met that standard long before there was even a legislative measure in place so we absolutely, emphatically deny any claims that we are not in compliance with the ICU staffing law,” said Leary.

The MNA also says BMC is floating nurses between departments, negatively impacting patient care. Leary says the practice is common across the country and BMC moves nurses to where the patients are. The MNA’s Schildmeier says nurses are reporting threats of discipline and a bullying-management style urging nurses to speed up care.

“They’re even posting signs that tell when a certain operating room and nurse is not performing up to the speed requirements that they set, basically trying to shame the nurses into speeding up their care regardless of the impact of patients,” said Schildmeier.

Judy Sharp is an MNA member and has worked at BMC for about seven years. Since NARH closed, she says a document showing patient turnover has been placed near the operating unit characterizing worker performance as “bad” or “worse.”

“Staff throughout the hospital are feeling that stress that it’s not necessarily about appropriate and safe patient care, it’s about time and money,” said Sharp.

Leary says BMC management does not using bullying tactics.

“I would have no idea where that comment would be coming from,” Leary said. “BMC does not use those tactics. Our managers are professionals. Our senior management team is highly respected and we certainly do not use any tactics like that with our employees. We respect our employees greatly. All of our employees.”

The MNA, which represents 100 former NARH workers, has consistently called for the restoration of a full-service hospital in North Adams. A state-commissioned report found such a facility would be sustainable only if it receives federal critical access status, which NARH failed to receive in 2011. BMC has not decided whether to apply.

The picket, which under labor laws must be carried out by off-shift nurses, is set for 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 10th outside BMC’s Pittsfield facility. 

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