Nurses and officials of Quincy Medical Center plan to negotiate Monday morning in an effort to avert a one-day strike planned for next Thursday.
The talks between the nurses and officials from the hospital's parent company, Steward Health Care, were scheduled by a federal mediator and will focus on staffing levels.
"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.”
Christopher Murphy, the media relations director for Steward, said the hospital has always been open to talks.
“We’ve been negotiating with the nurses at QMC for months now on all issues, from compensation to staffing to benefits," Murphy said. "We’ve had conversations, multiple [conversations], about every one of those….any insinuation that we haven’t is not correct."
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 planned layoff of 30 nurses and the closure of a surgical unit. But on March 27, Steward officials notified the union that the negotiations would not take place, the nurses said.
Murphy, however, said that talks had never been scheduled for Sunday and that the company was always open to negotiations.
According to Schildmeier, Monday's talks will not only include the recent closure of the in-patient unit, but will address staffing concerns that have been in existence for some time.
“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, but until they refused to do so … 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, and officials insisting that the nurses’ safety concerns have been fabricated.
Murphy said the tactics in this case are similar to those taken by the Nurses Association's parent organization, which uses strikes and vigils to attempt to gain the upper hand in contract talks.
According to Murphy, daily quality checks show that Quincy Medical Center has had a consistent, positive patient experience.
"Emergency wait times have not changed…the ICU is still used for intensive care patients only. All these claims [by the nurses' union] simply are not correct..." Murphy said.
"The experience of the patient today, of how quickly they would be in a bed, and the caseload of the nurse is the same as it would have been a month ago, and the month before that, and a month before that. All the way to where we acquired the hospital."
According to Quincy Medical Center Emergency Department RN and MNA bargaining committee member Stacey McEachern, the nurses aren’t even looking for a complete resolution to these staffing concerns at this time, but are seeking a willingness from hospital officials 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,” McEachern said. “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. Canceling negotiations has gone in the opposite direction.”
Murphy wouldn't comment on how he expected negotiations to go, but any plans going forward would be in the best interest of the hospital, which was facing bankruptcy before the Steward Health Care acquired it in late 2011.
"We have a long-term plan to turn the hospital around, grow it, and add services. But in the short term, these losses are not sustainable," Murphy said. "What was happening on the [now closed] unit is simple. We were paying nurses to watch empty beds. That’s not an efficient use of health care dollars…by stopping that practice, it gives us more money to dedicate to outpatient practices."