Nurses claim staffing levels are unsafe

Union says offer on the table not far from hospital's

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PITTSFIELD — Nurses are pushing back in their contract dispute with Berkshire Health Systems.

About 560 of the 800 nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association have signed a petition that calls for BHS leadership to "settle a fair contract" with its union at Berkshire Medical Center. BHS is the parent company of BMC.

Word of the petition comes a day after the hospital made public its final offer to nurses following 22 negotiating sessions over seven months. The nurses' contract expired in September 2016 but has been extended.

The union is seeking salary increases, benefit enhancements and added staff, among other things.

The petition is meant to demonstrate solidarity, said union spokesman Joe Markman. It is set to be delivered to BHS Chief Executive Officer David Phelps at 9 a.m. today.

"Too often, we aren't able to answer call lights in a timely manner, and care delays throughout the hospital are excessive," reads a copy of the petition given to The Eagle. "Nurses are burned out. BMC must do better!"

The hospital's offer to the nurses, which includes salary increases and other incentives, totals $6.5 million over three years.

Hospital spokesman Michael Leary said Thursday that its position is unchanged.

"Berkshire Medical Center has presented its best and final offer," he said.

BHS leaders said the union's proposal would cost an additional $21 million over three years.

But Markman said nurses have submitted an "off-the-record" proposal that is closer to what the hospital was seeking. He declined to elaborate on specifics, saying it would violate the terms of negotiation.

Hospital leaders allege the union is pushing a statewide agenda for mandatory, fixed staffing ratios that has little to do with local needs.

The petition, Markman said, is meant to counter that claim.

"The proposal on the table was created specifically for nurses at BMC and patients at BMC and that they want these for a reason," he said. "The nurses are trying to show the public and the people who have the decision-making power that they are united."

On Friday, nurses also plan to deliver to Phelps 425 unsafe staffing reports, which have been written since October 2015.

"They already been provided to the management," Markman said. "It is important that top people in the organization understand these concerns. But maybe they are not getting to David Phelps."

The reports are written to document accounts of when nurses believe they are understaffed. The reports detail the number of patients on a unit, the circumstances of the patient's condition, and number of staff assigned to that shift and department.

Nurses have said they are being asked to care for too many people at once, which increases the risk that something could go wrong with patient care. They said they have repeatedly requested additional staff.

The hospital has defended its staffing guidelines as appropriate and meeting the best practices of the American Nursing Association.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.

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