Business

Tufts says complaints of poor care during strike were unfounded

Tufts Medical nurses in a picket line by the doors of the medical center in Chinatown.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff

Tufts Medical nurses in a picket line by the doors of the medical center in Chinatown.

Tufts Medical Center executives have investigated four formal complaints about poor patient care since the hospital’s 1,200 nurses went on strike, but said Friday they have found no truth to the allegations.

The hospital, however, acknowledged that a glitch had occurred on Wednesday, the first day of the job action: Dozens of replacement nurses found their passwords and badges would not allow them to access hospital computers, including the medication administration system. Executives said the problems were addressed quickly, and patients received their medications as required.

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The war of words between the hospital and the Massachusetts Nursing Association over patient care escalated Friday, as hundreds of nurses and supporters walked the picket line outside the Chinatown hospital. The union said Mayor Martin J. Walsh, whose offers to mediate the dispute were rebuffed, and other local politicians would join them on Saturday.

The union posted allegations on its Facebook page of substandard care by some of the 325 replacement nurses, while the hospital sought to reassure the public that all was running smoothly.

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Terry Hudson-Jinks, the hospital’s chief nursing officer, said the four anonymous and vague complaints were made to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. They included allegations that patients did not receive medications on time, substitute nurses were not competent to operate certain medical equipment, and that a patient’s heart abnormality was undetected for four hours.

As required by the public health department, the hospital investigated the complaints.

“We could not validate them,’’ she told reporters gathered inside the lobby. “They are not factual.’’

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The health department will have the final say on whether the complaints are valid.

Hudson-Jinks pointed out that health inspectors have been a constant presence at the hospital during the strike and ensuing lockout that is expected to last until Monday.

“It’s going remarkably well,’’ she said. “We took time to select the nurses we needed and we were very picky.’’

To accentuate this point, executives brought 69-year-old Judy McGee to the press conference. McGee has been a patient at Tufts since she was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago. She signed into the emergency room Tuesday night, was diagnosed with pneumonia, and was admitted. She expected to go home Friday.

“My care has been fine,’’ she said. “I have had three nurses from the travel team who have been wonderful. I wouldn't be here if I felt it was unsafe.’’

Nurses told a different story. Eileen Agranat, an operating room nurse walking the picket line, said the hospital is relying heavily on lesser-trained technicians because replacement nurses are not familiar with Tufts’ patients and equipment. She said technicians and other employees have been texting nurses with updates from inside.

“It’s very, very distressing,’’ she said.

The strike began after the union and the hospital failed to agree on wages, benefits, and staffing levels.

State Representative Denise Garlick, a Democrat from Needham and a nurse, called it a “public health emergency.’’

She is part of a group of 73 legislators who plan to deliver a letter to Tufts Chief Executive Dr. Michael Wagner on Saturday, urging the hospital to return to the negotiating table with the nurses.

She said in an e-mail that nurses have been flown in to “care for complicated patients in a facility that the traveling nurses do not know, with colleagues they have never met, equipment that may or may not be familiar, and policies that are complicated.’’

“This is a deadly serious situation,’’ Garlick said.

Agranat said striking nurses are exhausted, but have been buoyed by the support they feel. On Friday, a Boston firetruck pulled up with boxes of doughnuts and coffee. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office provided breakfast Thursday, and Boston police sent a food truck for dinner on Wednesday.

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at kowalczyk@globe.com.
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