The Massachusetts Nurses Association last week filed a grievance against Lawrence General Hospital in response to a patient care restructuring plan that the union says has led three nurses to resign rather than transfer to new positions, and has diminished the quality of care at the facility.
According to a statement released by the association, hospital officials told union leaders Sept. 14 that as many as 15 nurses could be laid off as a result of the restructuring, which involves closing the short-stay unit; partnering the hospital's lactation consulting services with the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center; and converting a 40-bed surgical unit into an electronic monitoring unit for patients who require acute cardiac care.
Hospital officials said no nurses will be laid off as a result of the changes, but some will transition into new roles in different units. “We’ve been very clear that this redesign requires absolutely no layoffs or reduction of workforce of any kind,” said Vanessa Kortze, the hospital’s marketing and communications manager.
"They're calling it transfers; we're calling it layoffs," said Patty Rogers-Sullivan, who has been a nurse at Lawrence General for 29 years and is chairwoman of the local bargaining unit, which represents 481 nurses at the hospital.
The union contends that the hospital’s plan to close the short-stay unit, which cares for patients undergoing procedures that do not require an overnight stay, will overburden medical and surgical floor nurses who do not have the same level of training. The union also is concerned that the restructuring threatens senior nurses and nurses who are union members and leaders.
"We want [hospital management] to come to the table and tell us what it wants to do, and with a collaborative effort we'll get the training these nurses need so no one's putting these patients at risk," said Rogers-Sullivan. "These nurses do the best they can with what they have and they're realizing now that their patients' care is being jeopardized."
Many Short Stay Unit patients have conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis that weaken their immune systems, and should not be treated in areas where they can be exposed to infectious diseases, Rogers-Sullivan said.
"These patients have an autoimmune diagnosis and now we're putting them in the general populace," Rogers-Sullivan said. "It's putting the nurse's license at risk, these patients at risk."
Caring for patients of the Short Stay Unit in areas that treat their specific condition is "clinically appropriate" and "will facilitate a more seamless patient care approach," according to a statement on the hospital's website.
"We've made sure that the staff working in the Short Stay Unit have been realigned to accommodate the increase in patient volume," Kortze said. "Nobody's going into a position they can't handle."
A recent decrease in beds in the intensive care unit also has angered nurses, who have filed 19 reports of unsafe staffing conditions to hospital management, according to Rogers-Sullivan.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association is determining whether the hospitals' actions warrant a charge of unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board, according to a statement released by the union.
Liam O'Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.