Unionized nurses and hospital officials made their final preparations Wednesday for a 24-hour strike at Quincy Medical Center scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. Thursday.
More than 200 members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association are expected to walk off their jobs, form picket lines outside the Whitwell Street hospital campus throughout the day, and rally at noon to protest what they say are dangerous staffing levels, according to David Schildmeier, a spokesman for the Canton-based nursing union.
“We want our message to get out there,” said recovery room nurse and union official Paula Ryan. “We’re concerned about patients being at risk because of declining positions, and that we want the community to support our efforts and [keep] quality care.”
Hospital administrators, who have denied staffing levels are inadequate at the unprofitable facility, were finalizing plans to keep the medical center open with nonunion staff and replacement workers.
“The doctors and all the clinical staff except for the nurses will remain,” said Chris Murphy, spokesman for Steward Health Care System, the Boston parent of Quincy Medical Center and nine other hospitals in Eastern Massachusetts. “The technical and support staff will be there as well. We’ll be bringing in licensed replacement nurses for the duration of the strike.”
Murphy declined to say what contractor Steward, which is owned by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, has hired to supply replacement nurses.
Quincy Medical Center nurses authorized the strike last month after union negotiators failed to reach agreement with Steward on a new contract. The nurses have been without a pact since before Steward acquired the hospital from bankruptcy in October 2011. But through an understanding between the union and Steward, they have been working under the terms of a separate Steward contract with union members at Quincy Medical Center’s sister facility Carney Hospital in Dorchester.
Stalled contract talks, often centered on staffing levels, have fueled brief strikes by union nurses at hospitals across the country. Earlier this week, the Massachusetts Nurses Association scheduled a strike authorization vote by its members at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. In May 2011, the union agreed on a new contract with Tufts Medical Center in Boston only hours before more than 1,000 nurses were ready to begin a five-day strike.
But a last-minute settlement is unlikely this time. Quincy Medical president Daniel Knell said the union rejected “generous early retirement and severance packages that included compensation and health benefits” meant to avert layoffs and avoid a strike.
Nurses said they turned down the offer because it was contingent on union members canceling the strike and dropping unfair labor charges they have lodged against Steward. “There was nothing on staffing, and that’s what our issue is,” Ryan said.
The nurses union was notified in February that the hospital would close a 40-bed medical surgical floor and lay off 30 nurses who worked there along with 40 technicians, orderlies, and laborers. Union officials contend the move is aggravating already overcrowded conditions, but hospital officials insist there are often empty beds.
Christopher Walker, a spokesman for Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, said the mayor has met with representatives of both sides and is urging them to continue talking.
“The hospital has reached out to the mayor and has said that there will be no impact to services provided at the hospital during the strike, that patients will be treated, and that would be the mayor’s expectation,” Walker said.
Quincy Police Chief Paul Keenan said he has also been in touch with the parties.
“At 5 a.m., we will have officers deployed on detail hired by the hospital at all the entrances of Quincy Medical Center to make sure patients and ambulances and visitors can all get in safely,” he said. “The union has assured me they won’t disrupt any of the traffic for any of the patients or visitors. Right now, we don’t anticipate any problems. Both sides are working well with us to make sure they have a peaceful day and peaceful demonstration.”