Nurses holding signs and decked in blue coats marched in front of Quincy Medical Center on Thursday morning, shouting demands for increased staffing and chanting in unison about allegedly unsafe patient conditions.
The scene began at 6 a.m., when nurses with the Massachusetts Nurses Association walked out en masse to join nurses from Norwood Hospital and Morton Hospital in Taunton as part of a one-day strike organized by the union.
“We feel we need to bring it to the community to support the issues,” said Paula Ryan, a recovery room nurse at Quincy Medical and chairwoman of the nurses’ local union. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s been a struggle every day, nurses trying to provide the better care … but enough is enough. We need the community to get behind us and the leaders to support our issues.”
In response, Quincy Medical Center officials had hired trucks with billboards saying that the Massachusetts Nurses Association was living in the past. Nurses stood in front of the trucks as they tried to pass the street, and attached their own signs to the back of the vehicles.
Officials also were responding inside the hospital.
“We’re trying to get the facts straight,” said Chris Murphy, a spokesperson for Steward Health Care, the owner of Quincy Medical Center since it was rescued from bankruptcy in 2011.
“The MNA’s campaign is based on misinformation and lies, and we’ll take every opportunity commenting to the media, talking to the community, and running ads that there is another side of the story…QMC is a safe, high-quality local option for healthcare.”
Murphy said the hospital’s actions are an effort to dedicate money to where the hospital’s demands are.
“We have the great benefit of having a lot of third parties in the US that grade quality, and Quincy does excellent in those [reviews]… we have a quality and safe institution.
Out on the picket lines, nurses said that conditions have gotten so bad that patients are being boarded in Emergency Departments, a problem only exacerbated by the closure of a 40-bed surgical unit last month.
Kathleen LeBretton, a nurse in the Emergency Department, said boarding happens two to three times a week. That department has also become understaffed, she said.
“There have been numerous times where there are only to two to three nurses on the board for coming in at 7 a.m., and as our manager said, we asked what happens if there is a code, if someone comes in sick, which leaves no nurses on the floor, and he said you’re just going to have to knock on wood [that that doesn’t happen],” LeBretton said.
The nurses were supported by Dr. Robert Noonan, who works in a private practice but sometimes does consulting work with Quincy Medical Center.
“There was a patient last month who was a patient of mine in her 80s. The closed surgical floor, which was then a combined unit, was full, and she was boarded in the emergency room for 18 hours,” he said.
“It’s a total unsatisfactory way for the nurses to perform nursing duties. And the outcome for the patient is a disaster,” he said.
Murphy said the statements are fabricated.
“There have never been less than four nurses on in the Emergency Department at any time. It’s the nurse making fictional claims in an effort to get more compensation,” Murphy said
As both sides continue to argue, nurses from other Steward Health Care facilities came out to support their fellow union members, saying they were concerned that what was happening at Quincy Medical Center could happen to them.
“I want to support them in any way I can,” said Linda Barton, who works in the ICU in Norwood Hospital. “Steward has become increasingly profit minded and it’s hard to continue to provide the safe, effective, good care we want for our patients. The flow of patient care is hard to deliver when we don’t have services, and we see that happen here. They are closing floors at Norwood and we’re afraid.”
State Senator John Keenan, a Quincy Democrat who was out to talk to the nurses on the front lines, said that although things have gotten this far, he’s hopeful that the parties can come to resolution.
“I think [the public] should realize this Is a valuable asset to the city and they should encourage both parties to get back [to the bargaining table]. Certainly there are patient safety concerns and they are trying to balance that in a changing health care environment. Hopefully they will work it out,” Keenan said.