Today’s headlines are full of alarm bells about the American health care system. From limited coverage to those opposing any coverage for the poor the balance between safe and effective care and profits is a difficult one. The only thing certain in our health care system is that each day nurses show up for work and provide excellent care under difficult circumstances. Nurses even volunteer their expertise and care to others (see video). Yet administrators continue to cut back this most essential workforce to fund other budget priorities. Somehow quality patient care is bad for the bottom line in their opinion. Nurses are fighting back as advocates not only for quality jobs, but quality health care.
In the wake of last week's announcement of major service cuts and layoffs to their Worcester-based facilities, UMass Memorial Medical Center has announced significant cuts to services and staff at the Fitchburg Health Alliance Burbank Hospital campus, with a 30 percent cut to RN staff who work in the Burbank Urgent Care Unit and a 25 percent reduction in RN staffing in the Simonds-Sinon Regional Cancer Center, which is located on the campus.
Under the hospital's plan, highly skilled nurses, most of whom have 20 – 30 years of experience as registered nurses serving the community, will be replaced with lesser skilled, medical assistants who are incapable of providing the assessment, care and treatments the nurses have been providing to patients for years. The result of the plan will mean patients will wait longer for care, receive less care, and in all cases, will be subject to a lower standard of care.
"This is a dangerous plan that will degrade the quality of care we nurses have taken great pride in delivering to this community," said Kerry Beaulac, RN, an oncology nurse at the Burbank facility with more than 24 years of experience caring for patients.
We are shocked that our administration has so little concern for the people we care for in Northern Worcester County.
At the Burbank Urgent Care Center, UMass/Health Alliance is seeking to make a 30 percent cut in RN staffing, with a layoff that will eliminate 3.20 of 5.25 FTE's or over 130 hours of nursing care leaving only 82 hours of nursing care per week at the center, leaving one nurse in most cases to be responsible for the care of between 45-90 patients who visit the center every day from more than 28 surrounding towns, seeking care for a variety of ailments, broken bones and even drug overdoses. The certified medical assistants who will replace the RNs are prohibited by skill level and by law from providing nearly all the duties assigned to the nurses, leaving the single nurse and physician with unsafe patient assignments and significantly less time to evaluate and treat each patient.
At the Simonds-Sinon Regional Cancer Center, the hospital wants to eliminate over 90 hours of nursing care per week forcing oncology nurses to absorb more duties and a heavier patient load, which will result in less time with patients undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments for a variety of cancers. The plan also includes the reduction in other support staff, which will mean patients will have less flexibility in scheduling their appointments, further complicating their care at the most vulnerable time of their lives.
When nurses raised concerns to the center's director last week about all these changes and their impact on patients, she brushed off the concerns, stating that
we have been too customer friendly for the business.
"We were absolutely stunned by her statement, and what it showed about our management's concern for patients, and the true motivation behind these decisions. This is all about business and the bottom line, and patients are a mere afterthought," said Beaulac.
As UMass/Health Alliance continues to make significant service and staff cuts, they cite the drop in census for these services. However, at the Burbank campus the 30 percent cut in staff and care comes at a time when there has only been a two percent drop in visits to the facility.
The nurses at the Burbank campus, along with nurses throughout the UMass system are strongly opposed to all these cuts and are committed to pursuing whatever means are open to them to alert the public about how these short-sighted changes will impact their health and safety.
"Staffing and service cuts hurt us all," Beaulac concluded. "In fact, our patients have the most to lose if this plan is allowed to be implemented."