Steward Health Care has reached a one-year agreement with the nurses union at Quincy Medical Center following a contentious, months-long labor dispute.
The controversy peaked in a one-day strike initiated by the Massachusetts Nurses Association in April. Now, both sides say they are ready to move forward.
“The MNA, Steward [Health Care], and QMC will work together to promote the hospital to the residents of Quincy,” said Chris Murphy, a spokesman for Steward Health Care, the owner of Quincy Medical Center since it was rescued from bankruptcy in 2011. “If we can all do that effectively, our hopes and the hope of the MNA is volume utilization will increase and hospital viability will be strengthened.”
Murphy declined to say whether the hospital’s reputation had been tarnished by labor disputes, and said the focus should be on the new agreement.
“This agreement sets a blueprint for the future and increases awareness of the great care provided at our hospital,” said Daniel Knell, president of Quincy Medical Center, in a release. “We are committed to high quality, safe patient care. I believe that working together with the MNA we can become the hospital of choice for the residents of the Greater Quincy area.”
In the agreement, nurses agreed to let Quincy Medical Center increase the percentage of part-time staff from 20 percent to 30 percent.
The hospital also created a "swing unit" to allow it to be more flexible.
"It could be a situation where you’re in the emergency department, you’re going to be admitted, and the doctor orders a bunch of tests,” Murphy said. “Rather than waiting in the emergency department for the admission, you’d go to this swing unit instead ... and you’d get your lab results and be moved to the medical surgical floor.
“It doesn’t happen much, but in the event it does happen, patients will wait in this unit for their admissions instead of waiting in the emergency department,” Murphy said.
Nurses and hospital administrators additionally agreed to a nurses’ wage freeze for the next 12 months.
For members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the agreement resolves the main issues employees had with the hospital.
“It was never about money -- it was about providing the best care to our patients,” said Paula Ryan, a recovery room nurse at Quincy Medical and chairwoman of the local union.
Progress has been made in that regard, Ryan said. Quincy Medical Center agreed with nurses on a staffing grid that would require one nurse for every five patients on a medical surgical floor. An agreement was also formed to restrict one tech, or nurses’ assistant, to 10 patients, Ryan said.
Ryan said the nurses were closely monitoring staffing levels and had created a tracking form to keep the hospital honest. “We’re going to be vigilant that the staffing levels are maintained that we agreed to,” she said.
Ryan said she wasn’t concerned that the negotiation process would have to start over again in a year. If anything, she was optimistic that the understanding reached would help the hospital prosper, and nurses would be rewarded in the end.
“We haven’t had a raise since 2008,” said Ryan. “This is now 2013. We’ve got five years without any increase. If the finances improve and are stable, we’ll come back to the table.”