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Quincy Medical Center, nurses far apart as strike nears

Quincy Medical Center nurses sat in a sea of blue in the basement of a Quincy church Tuesday morning, as they aired their grievances in a dispute that centers on staffing levels.

The public event came a day after unsuccessful negotiations between the Massachusetts Nurses Association and hospital officials to call off a one-day nurses strike that is scheduled for Thursday.

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All 236 Quincy Medical nurses plan to march in front of the hospital from Thursday morning until Friday morning to protest what they say are dangerous cutbacks in the number of nurses on duty.

“It’s our job to spread the word in the community and discover how [recent changes] will impact patients,” said Benjamin Day, director of organizing for Healthcare-Now. The national health care advocacy group took part in the session, hosted by union group Jobs With Justice.

Earlier this year, the money-losing hospital’s owner, Steward Health Care System, said it would close the medical surgical floor and lay off 30 nurses who worked there along with 40 technicians, orderlies, and laborers, according to David Schildmeier, spokesman for the nurses association.

Quincy Medical officials said the staffing issue has been fabricated by the nurses union in an effort to gain the upper hand in ongoing contract negotiations.

Chris Murphy, a Steward spokesman, said the nurses are “hoping that we don’t want [these allegations] in the community, and as a result we go out and give them more compensation and hire more nurses to pay them $52 an hour to watch empty beds. That’s what the 30 nurses who [are] being let go were doing.”

If the strike occurs, Murphy said, the hospital will remain fully operational.

Nurses who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said there has been a decline in staffing and patient care since Steward bought Quincy Medical in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings in 2011.

“It is very disappointing,” said Sharon Man, who has worked as a nurse in the psychiatric ward for eight years. “We just want to let the community know. This is happening. I’m living it.”

Nurses said there sometimes are only two of them to care for 22 patients on the psychiatric floor — far exceeding the 5-to-1 staffing ratio hospital officials have said is adequate.

Also, they said, the reduction in surgical beds has caused patients to be bumped to other departments.

“What that has done is caused boarding of admitted patients in the emergency department for up to 30 hours for up to 30 patients at a time,” said Stacey McEchern, an emergency department nurse.

The two sides didn’t even agree on whether hospital officials were invited to Tuesday’s session.

Nurses said they offered an invitation; Murphy said that wasn’t true.

He said it would make no sense to treat patients the way the nurses have alleged.

“Why keep a medical patient in the emergency department if you have an open bed?” Murphy said. “There is no financial gain . . . their argument is we would drive revenue, but that would hurt revenue.”

He said the hospital staffs 54 beds in its surgical unit, and 40 are usually filled.

And in the emergency department, he said, the average waiting time to see a doctor is only 30 minutes.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.
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