PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Medical Center brass say they've taken proper precautions to make sure patient care is uninterrupted during the strike and subsequent lockout.
"We fully expect that our operations will be as they are any other day. If you are a patient and you need to be here with us or you are scheduled to be here and it is elective, it will be no different than it was any other day," said Berkshire Health Systems President David Phelps during a briefing with the media on Tuesday.
The registered nurses at Berkshire Medical Center are expected to walk out of the building Tuesday morning at 7 for the start of a one-day, 24-hour strike. They won't be allowed back into the building for the four days following the strike. The local Massachusetts Nursing Association and the hospital have been unable to reach a contract settlement.
Phelps and Chief Operating Officer Diane Kelly say for those five days, patients will still be able to access the three campuses — Hillcrest, Berkshire Medical Center, and the BMC campus in North Adams — and receive the same level of care.
"When they took the strike vote, we started putting the plan in place, making sure we would know how we would deliver care and making sure we have the right resources," Kelly said. "When it came closer and closer, and we saw what they were doing across the commonwealth, we really started ramping it up."
Kelly said the hospital's plan for the strike has been approved by the state Department of Health's Division of Health Care Quality. It entails bringing in 247 replacement nurses, contracted through U.S. Nursing Corp., additional security, and the opening of two command centers to monitor activity.
"The assignments and choosing of these nurses was a lengthy process. When we got our 247 and they all had the right criteria, it was well planned," Kelly said.
The replacement nurses were picked specifically from the agency because of their certification and history working in specific departments, Kelly said. The hospital had submitted criteria for which nurses they wanted — such as those who have a history of working in emergency departments or those who worked in end-stage renal dialysis to use a few examples, Kelly said.
"We were careful to make sure people carry the right certification for the right area," Kelly said.
Those nurses began arriving this weekend. On Sunday and Monday, the hospital created orientation sites to get them familiar with the equipment and technology used at Berkshire Medical Center.
"It includes a significant amount of introduction to our information systems, which are complicated," Phelps said. "It includes training on the equipment they would use on their assignment here."
On Tuesday morning, the unionized Berkshire Medical Center nurses will leave the job site. The replacements will work in two 12-hour shifts to cover the hospital
"We know these nurses come to us heavily experienced. We don't need to teach them how to be nurses. They are nurses who are well educated, fluent in their work, work all over the country. Our goal is for them to see what our equipment looks like. Even the equipment, it wasn't foreign to them. They've seen this at other hospitals," Kelly said.
Phelps added, "this is our first rodeo but thankfully, it is not theirs."
Kelly said the hospital will continue using the same staffing model and will continue to monitor census numbers and patient condition, making adjustments as needed. Kelly said she hasn't seen much of a shift is appointments or census numbers that are different from normal at this point.
The hospital did, however, ask some patients who were scheduled for surgery Tuesday morning to come in later than normal. Kelly said typically the operating room patients come in for 6 a.m. and the lobby is busy until 7:30 a.m. The nurses, however, are going on strike at 7 a.m. so those patients on Tuesday were asked to come in a bit later so they wouldn't get caught in the shuffle of nurses walking out, and new ones starting.
"The patient won't have to see that transition," Kelly said.
As for the facilities themselves, all three sites will maintain the patient entrances and parking.
"Patient access will not change at all. Some side door access will be changed and it will be badge access required - but most of that happened months ago just because our environment is very different. We always used to be able to use Wahconah Street and go into the cafeteria and we changed that six months ago," Kelly said. "For this, patient access is not changing at all but there will be more people present."
There will be additional security present. Phelps said the hospital has contracted a private security company, which will work alongside the hospital's current security.
"We have a very detailed security plan that has been developed with Pittsfield Police, the sheriff's department, North Adams Police, and our private security," Phelps said. "It is designed to ensure those who are protesting have rights, we want them to be adequately protected, but at the same time, we want to make sure our patients have complete access to the building. We have invested significantly in private security to help with that."
Phelps wouldn't reveal the numbers of additional security. And Kelly said she is hoping "security is a non-event" and isn't really required during the strike and lockout.
Additionally, there are vendors that refuse to cross picket lines and Phelps said the hospital has worked out agreements to ensure all supplies are delivered.
There will be two command centers where administrators will monitor the situation — one in North Adams and one in Pittsfield. The plans for those centers are part of the hospital's emergency operations plan.
After the strike is over, the hospital plans to lock the nurses out, citing a contractual commitment for the replacement nurses of five days.
"This is the third MNA strike. Each of them was called as a one-day strike but the union certainly knew that there is no such thing as a one-day strike," Phelps said.
Overall, Phelps is estimating the cost to the hospital to be in the $4 million range, including the decreased cost of paying the union workers. And after the strike, he isn't sure when the hospital will be returning to the negotiation table with the union.
"I doubt it will be a rush to the table. We'll have some debriefing to do and to get back to normal operations. At some point, for sure, we will be back at the table," Phelps said.
Hospital officials said they told the federal mediator that they were willing to return to the bargaining table over the weekend to avoid a strike but "never heard back." The union also said it wanted to return to the table and hadn't had a response.
A federal judge has denied Berkshire Medical Center's request for a temporary injunction to halt the one-day strike planned by the nursing union. The hospital had filed an emergency motion requesting the federal courts to put a stop to the strike. The hospital alleged that the union did not follow the proper grievance process as outlined in the contract. On Friday, Judge Mark G. Mastroianni denied that emergency request.
The hospital is seeking a preliminary injunction to halt the nurses strike. Berkshire Medical Center filed for an injunction in federal court, claiming the Massachusetts Nursing Association had not followed contractual obligations prior to calling a strike. The union, however, asserts that the strike is legal and is continued to take to the picket lines on Tuesday.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association delivered a 10-day notice to hospital management on Friday notifying it of the local bargaining unit's intent to hold a one-day unfair labor practice strike beginning at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 3, and running until 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 4.
The hospital has fired back at the MNA with its own complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Berkshire Health Systems has filed a complaint alleging that the nursing union is not bargaining in good faith, and even "surface bargaining" - a term used to describe bargaining without trying to actually reach a settlement.
After hitting a stalemate in negotiations, the nursing union has released 437 "unsafe staffing forms," which document specific instances when nurses felt they needed more help. The local chapter of the Massachusetts Nursing Association, representing unioned nurses at Berkshire Medical Center, have been negotiations with Berkshire Health Systems on a new contract. Particularly, the nurses say they hope to a contractual agreement to bolster staffing. But, months ago the hospital had already put
BMC nurses are now making a pitch to get the hospital's Board of Trustees on their side. The Massachusetts Nurses Association has been in challenging contract negotiations with the hospital. After what call a fairly unproductive negotiating session on Tuesday, the nurses are attempting to meet with members of the Board of Trustees.
The nurses at BMC have filed a second complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against hospital administrators. The nurses are accusing Berkshire Medical Center leaderships, particularly Vice President of Human Resources Arthur Milano, of denying them information they deem is needed to negotiation health insurance. The nurses asked detailed financials surrounding the hospital's health insurance offer during negotiations.
Another negotiation session concluded Monday and nurses say little progress has been made toward a resolution. Mark Brodeur sits on the bargaining committee and on Monday night he said hospital officials rejected the change put forth by the nurses to leave charge nurses unassigned. The nurses have been trying to push for what they call "safe staffing" in the negotiations and contractually binding the hospital to provide what they see is adequate staff.
The nurses at Berkshire Medical Center have taken the second step toward a strike. The Massachusetts Nursing Association filed a notification to end the existing agreement. The contract currently in place prohibits a strike and while the contract had an expiration date of September 2016, the duration clauses continued that unless a 30-day notice from either side was made or a new contract was signed, the existing one remained in place.
In the middle of a strike authorization vote and the union filing charges against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board, the Massachusetts Nursing Association and Berkshire Medical Center return to the bargaining table Thursday in hopes to come to an agreement on a new contract.
Berkshire Medical Center has presented what it says will be its "best and final offer" to settle a contract with the nursing union. A letter sent out by President David Phelps and Chief Operating Officer Diane Kelly was released on Wednesday outlining the hospital's offer. The Massachusetts Nurses Association and BMC have been at an impasse as the two sides try to negotiate a new three-year contract. The current one expired in September.
Nurses and supporters paced back and forth along North Street and Wahconah, holding signs, chanting "if we're out here, something is wrong in there." On the otherside of those walls, the administration is reviewing data showing Berkshire Medical Center ranking in the top when it comes to patient safety and preparing a forum to celebrate those numbers with employees. Outside, the nurses chant that the staffing levels are unsafe. Inside, a staffing office is reviewing the personnel on hand to m
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