Our Opinion: Nurses won't sell out patients, community
The nurses of Berkshire Medical Center spent about 16 hours negotiating on Monday, June 4, to discuss an idea presented by the hospital to address our staffing needs. We have had issues for well over five years, worsened by the closure of North Adams Hospital. While those at the top easily ignore it because the profits keep rolling in, it is taking a toll on all of our staff members.
The hospital presented a concept that would include more than a couple of resource nurses on "all three shifts" in order to deal with surges in patient census, their inability to prepare for patient needs and acuity changes. We gave them a list of criteria to explore if it was a concept that would work. We asked that it be additive, and they not eliminate other positions in order to create these new ones. We asked that they post and recruit to fill longstanding gaps in the schedule, we asked that we agree on what the current staffing plan was so that it may be preserved. We asked that it be more than a couple of nurses for a 300-plus bed hospital that has been short for years with little to no relief.
They said they could work with us, confirmed "all three shifts" and "more than a couple of nurses." When we reconvened later in the week to discuss their proposal, it was a bait and switch. Two nurses for days and parts of evenings, no additional resources for nights, when assignments are already at or past capacity and the majority of the resources missing.
We gave them counters and several presentations for why we needed what we needed. We also gave them until 5 p.m. the following day to thoughtfully consider our proposal. Their response was not to meet us even a quarter of the way on staffing, or even move at all, but to throw money at us and give us 54 minutes to make a decision.
We will not sell out our patients for money. We will not sell out our coworkers for money. There is no price you can place on an infant struggling to breath, there is no price you can place on an elderly mother alone in the night, confused and seeking comfort, there is no price you can place on the tears of a family who just lost a loved one, there is no price you can place on someone in pain.
We have given our strike notice for June 18 and offered to meet them at any time to come to a settlement in order to avoid a strike. We stand together to protect our patients and improved working conditions in order to recruit and retain staff. We have offered to agree to the hospital's health insurance increase in the name of settlement as it is their top priority.
We are looking for a fair contract and already asking for less than most other hospitals in the state have settled on. Berkshire County deserves better, and the nurses at BMC are fighting for you all.
Mark Brodeur, RN, BSN
The writer is a member of the unionized nurses' bargaining committee.
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