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Amid Contract Impasse, BMC Nurses Talk Safe Patient Care At Community Forum


Nurses at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts have been negotiating a new contract for a year. They discussed on-the-job challenges at a safe patient care community town hall Tuesday. 


The Massachusetts Nurses Association wants what it argues is a better nurse-to-patient ratio at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield to ensure safe patient care.


Berkshire Medical Center contends the demand is unaffordable and unsustainable.


The two sides have been at a contract impasse for a year.


BMC Nurse Sarah Garson-Roberts says hospital conditions aren’t getting any better. She and other nurses spoke at a community town hall Tuesday night in Pittsfield – to a crowd of roughly 100.


“We are asking for more staff,” Garson-Roberts says. “We are begging for more staff.”


Nurses say they have delivered hundreds of unsafe staffing forms – standard reports provided to managers when there are not enough nurses available to provide safe and effective care.


“There are many times where we don’t have two people to assist to get patients out of bed in a timely manner,” Garson-Roberts says. “This one particular night there were call bells that were unanswered for at least 15 minutes. Usually people will ring their call bells for toileting, or pain medication, or things that you take for granted.”


The Berkshire Eagle has reported that there are questions as to the veracity of those numbers.


In May, BMC nurses declined what Berkshire Health Systems called its “best and final” offer for a new contract.


Since then, the nurses’ union has garnered support from the Berkshire Central Labor Council, Berkshire Brigades — the county’s Democratic Party — Indivisible Pittsfield and Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. The groups sponsored the forum.


Nurse Leilani Mcarble-Hover works overnight on the psychiatric floor.


“You are the only nurse sometimes on the floor, specifically Jones 2,” Mcarble-Hover says. “You are the nurse, you have two nursing assistants, and you can have up to 20 patients. That’s daunting. I had worked three or four or five days in a row, and on my first day off I am being called to come in. You miss your meals; you miss your potty breaks– who will take care of the nurse?”


In July, staffers at Berkshire Medical Center asked the hospital’s unionized nurses not to strike the same day MNA members walked out of Tufts Medical Center in Boston. The union then filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the internal letter interfered with negotiations between the hospital and its members.


BMC says the claim is unfounded, and in September filed its own unfair labor practice charge against the nurses’ union. BMC claimed that after almost 30 negotiation meetings, the union hasn’t materially changed its position and was practicing in “bad faith.”


Nurse Amber VanBramer disagrees.


“They have refused to bargain with us over this staffing issue. Constantly we are hearing ‘well you still have this on the table, you still have this on the table’ – because it is important to us. It is important to all 794 nurses at BMC,” VanBramer says.


BMC says the hospital’s formal quality tracking system has shown no data to support the nurses’ anecdotes. 


The nurses’ union is also calling for security improvements and health insurance guarantees.


BMC nurses have already authorized the MNA to launch a one-day strike, but no action has been taken. The union is required to give 10-day notice of a strike.

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