Staffing complaints echo along nurse picket line

PITTSFIELD — The hospital and its registered nurses disagreed inside.

And Tuesday they disagreed outside.

Nurses on the picket line Tuesday reiterated concerns heard throughout a year of negotiations about levels of RN staffing at the Berkshire Medical Center.

Hannah Pease, a nurse in the 2 East Medical Unit, said patients sometimes wait too long for care.

"They go without," Pease said of the effect of staffing shortages. "A lot of the times, we don't have nursing assistants to answer their call bells."

Michael Leary, the BMC spokesman, said the medical center operates to ensure adequate staffing and provides flexibility, based on the guidelines of the American Nurses Association.

"The union throws out 'safe staffing' and 'unsafe staffing' as if they define it," Leary said. "We have safe staffing at BMC."

Still, nurses on the picket line spoke Tuesday of staffing problems.

Nurse Darlene Chazey believes staffing problems make it hard for her to deliver proper care, particularly in pain management.

"That's what we're here for, is to take care of their suffering," said Chazey, who has worked at the hospital for over 45 years.

"You always find a way to manage," said Cassie Lipa, a psychiatric nurse at BMC. "But it's hard. You feel like you have no one to turn to."

Erin Ramsey, an emergency room nurse and a union representative, said nurses make do with existing staffing, but under protest.

"Sometimes we have to split ourselves and just hope that nothing bad happens to the patients we left," she said. "We've had some close calls."

Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the hospital also disagree about that.

Leary counters claims of close calls in patient care. He said the 437 "unsafe staffing" forms union members have completed since late 2015, compiled into an August report, do not match incidents in the hospital's incident-tracking forms.

Ramsey said nurses have reported concerns about inadequate staffing to hospital managers for months.

"Their response was, 'Well, did anyone die?' " she said.

Leary denied that anyone from the hospital made such a comment.

"If I'm a nurse with three patients, and they're all really sick ... I am torn," Ramsey said from the picket line.

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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