BMC Nurses Picket For Increased Staffing
The nurses marched outside of Berkshire Medical Center Wednesday afternoon.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The nursing union at Berkshire Medical Center says the administration hasn't hired enough staff to meet patient demands caused by the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital.
On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Nursing Association held an "informational picket" outside of the Pittsfield campus.
They hope to convince the hospital's administration to hire more full-time staff to handle the additional load.
"We are protesting out of concern for our patient's safety," said Gerri Jakacky, of the local union, in a prepared statement.
"Nurses are appalled that after the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, no effort has been made to ensure we are capable of providing appropriate care to what everyone knew would be in increase in patient census at our hospital."
The MNA says there has been a 20 percent increase in patients, which includes more than 300 additional deliveries in the maternity ward. Instead of hiring adequate full-time employees, the nurses say the hospital has hired per diem staff and that is not enough.
Patricia Zuccaro has worked in the emergency room for 14 years and said on Wednesday that the nurses have been met with "intimidation and bullying" from management when trying to discuss the needs.
"We've been trying to tell them that is has been an issue for quite some time and they are just brushing it under the rug. They say their main goal is patient safety but we wonder if it is more about the profit than an issue of safety." Zuccaro said.
Zuccaro was one of about 50 workers standing with signs outside of the Pittsfield campus in a snowstorm Wednesday afternoon. Marching up and down at the intersection of North Street and Wahconah with signs and chants calling for increased staffing, the group was met with honking horns and waves from passing cars.
Staffing levels have never been up to par, Zuccaro said, and the issue was exasperated by the closure of the North Adams hospital in March. BMC has since purchased the property and has been restoring outpatient and emergency services but patients coming through the emergency room have to be admitted to BMC unless taken to another hospital.
"A nurse can be taking care of six patients. In the emergency room, if you are down in the trauma, cardiac area and you have a trauma come in, it takes two nurses. You could have two other patients that you are taking care of and you are unable to get to them," she said.
"Since the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital, there has been a 20 percent increase in the census at our hospital. Yet, they haven't hired full-time staff to bridge the gap."
The nurses and the hospital dispute the increase in the number of patients going to BMC since the closure of NARH.
Hospital spokesman Michael Leary, however, says the MNA's report of a 20 percent increase is false. Since the closure, Leary says there has been a 10 percent rise in patients and the hospital has hired accordingly.
"Since NARH closed, BMC has hired 215 former NARH employees, including 47 RNs who work either in Pittsfield or North Adams. In the past few months, we have also hired an additional 27 RNs for the main BMC campus," Leary said in a statement.
He said Berkshire Medical Center is in compliance with state law in regards to staffing levels with 1:1 or 1:2 nurse to patient.
"We are proud of the record of patient safety we have achieved, which is consistently validated by independent national health ranking organizations and is on a par with the best hospitals in the nation," Leary said.
He says MNA's picket isn't so much about Berkshire Medical Center but rather part of the national agenda set by the National Nurses United union, which is affiliated with MNA. Nursing unions across the country have been holding picketing events to advocate for increased staff.
While the nurses may have headed the event, Zuccaro said they are representing more than just themselves.
"We are here representing not only the nurses but aides, techs, orderlies, security. We are understaffed and it is very unsafe for our patients," she said.
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