Nurses picket for staffing improvements
April 12-- Apr. 12--LAWRENCE -- Nurses at Lawrence General Hospital picketed Thursday for better staffing conditions in one of the first public contract disputes since the failure of a ballot question on nurse staffing limits in November.
Nurses are attempting to reach an agreement on a contract and have been in negotiations since last year.
Nurses have complaints about staffing in the emergency department, and the practice of "floating" nurses -- when nurses from one area of the medical center are transferred to another where there is a staffing need.
Nurses say this puts them out of their comfort zone in a way that could negatively impact patient care.
"When nurses float, they are put into units they might not be confident with or familiar with," said Travis Libman, emergency department nurse and chairman of the nurses' local bargaining unit. "We believe floating puts a danger to patients and staff."
Karen Moore, RN, the hospital's senior vice president of operations and chief nursing officer, told the Eagle-Tribune on Wednesday that floating is only done when the nurses "have the skills to float."
She noted critical care nurses get pulled to the emergency room often.
"They're competent, they get called on a lot," Moore said.
Debra Craig, a critical care nurse on the picket line Thursday, said floating puts nurses in departments with a "different mindset, a different flow" and affects efficiency.
"Even things like the computers might be a little different," she said. "Floating wouldn't be an issue if they had proper staffing."
Hospital leadership acknowledged there may be better ways to manage floating, but maintained it is a necessary tool to manage staffing levels at a hospital where most of the care is unplanned.
The emergency department in Lawrence General Hospital is one of the busiest in the state.
"We can't take that flexibility away from patient care," said Moore.
Steven Gill, a Lawrence General Hospital nurse on the picket line Thursday, said with the failure of a union-backed ballot question that would have set rigid nurse to patient-ratio limits, "Now it's time to put up or shut up."
Lawrence General Hospital nurses, with support from the Massachusetts Nurses Association, say the hospital needs to hire more registered nurses across multiple areas of the hospital.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association claims the hospital is "well positioned to make a greater investment in nurses" due to the recent merger of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health, which included a commitment of new money to Lawrence General Hospital as a safety net provider.
But it isn't clear the hospital would actually receive a significant influx in money.
According to the Attorney General's office, the conditions of that merger requires Beth Israel/Lahey Hospital maintain its existing level of support to safety net affiliates, but also requires an additional $8.8 million to the safety nets over an eight-year period.
Ellen Murphy Meehan, a healthcare consultant, said the requirements of the merger do not necessarily mean the hospital will "benefit at the bargaining table."
There is nothing that requires a specific amount of money be sent to a specific institution, according to the AG's office.
Lawrence General Hospital management and nurses meet again for negotiations April 18.
Other issues nurses are attempting to reach an agreement with hospital management on include improved time off, increased retirement benefits, and a wage increase.
Staff reporter Kiera Blessing contributed to this story.