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Nurses, Quincy hospital move to avert strike

Nurses and officials at Quincy Medical Center plan to negotiate Monday morning in an effort to avert a one-day strike planned for next Thursday.

Talks between the nurses and the hospital’s parent company, Steward Health Care, were scheduled by a federal mediator and will focus on staffing levels, the main issue in dispute.

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“We want to settle this thing,” said David Schildmeier, director of public communications for the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “We’ve been begging them for months to address these concerns. The nurses don’t want to go on strike, they want to address their concerns, and the strike is in protest to do so. We hope Monday they come in ready to talk.”

According to members of the nurses association, the two sides had planned to meet Sunday and Monday to discuss the staffing dispute, which was recently exacerbated by the pending layoff of 30 nurses and the closure of a surgical unit. But on March 27, Steward officials notified the union the negotiations would not take place, according to the nurses.

But Chris Murphy, media relations director for Steward, said in an e-mail that talks had never been scheduled for Sunday and that the company was always open to negotiations.

According to Schildmeier, Monday’s discussions will not only include the recent closure of the in-patient unit, but will address ongoing staffing concerns.

“It’s about the staffing conditions in the hospital and the patient safety crisis,” Schildmeier said. “We have proposals to fix the situation, and we’ve been wanting to talk to the hospital about that. . . . Even before the closure of the unit, there [were] not enough nurses on staff to safely care for the patients.”

Union members and hospital officials have long been at odds about conditions in the hospital, with officials insisting that the nurses’ safety concerns have been fabricated in an effort to gain the upper hand in union negotiations.

Hospital officials have said a one-day strike would put patients at risk, but Schildmeier said the nurses have no other choice.

Stacey McEachern, a registered nurse in the medical center’s emergency department, said nurses aren’t looking for a complete resolution to these staffing issues right now, but want to know hospital officials are willing to work with the union.

“We’re hoping to see some sort of progress, for them to engage with us in discussion over staffing, which hasn’t happened yet,” said McEachern, who is a member of the Massachusetts Nurses Association bargaining committee. “Just for them to sit down and speak to us about staffing and quality patient care at Quincy Medical Center. That would be a positive step in the right direction.”

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