As Tufts Medical Center nurses and their supporters began a fifth day of picketing outside the hospital Sunday, some protesters allegedly confronted replacement nurses at hotels miles from the facility.
About 5:30 a.m., as replacement nurses hired to care for patients during the historic nurses’ strike were preparing to go to work from their hotels, groups of people yelled angry messages at the nurses and bus drivers, including, “Nurses, go home!’’ according to Brooke Hynes, a hospital spokeswoman.
The protesters appeared at a hotel near Logan International Airport and another in the Boston suburbs, where the substitute nurses were being put up, Hynes said, and tried to block buses preparing to take the nurses to the hospital. At one hotel, a protester threw coffee at a bus driver, she said.
The hospital said police had to be called to “restore order.’’
State Police said management at a hotel near Logan called about 5:45 a.m. Sunday to report picketers outside the establishment. The 22 protesters lacked the necessary permit, and they left when told to do so by State Police, according to David Procopio, a State Police spokesman.
“There was no violence or throwing of any objects or items,’’ Procopio said in an e-mail.
The incident at the suburban hotel could not be confirmed.
A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the union representing the picketing nurses, said its officials were not aware of the alleged incidents until the organization was contacted by media Sunday morning.
“In being made aware of this situation, we want to express that the MNA does not advocate the use of violence,’’ the nurses’ union said in a statement. “It is dedicated to meeting the needs of patients throughout the Commonwealth by caring for and protecting them, be that at Tufts Medical Center or in community hospitals on the other side of the state.’’
The union said the incident “involved members of outside organizations.’’
Tufts’ chief nursing officer Terry Hudson-Jinks said at a press conference Sunday afternoon that hospital officials were enhancing security for the agency nurses and she did not believe any Tufts nurses were involved in the incidents.
“The message was clear that these protesters were trying to get in the way of the buses transporting the nurses to the medical center,’’ Hudson-Jinks said. “We rely on those nurses to deliver patient care.’’
Local clergy joined picketing nurses at a prayer vigil across the street from the hospital Sunday evening.
Nurses and supporters gathered at the candlelight vigil to hear speakers from several religions. They all joined together to sing “We Shall Not Be Moved.’’
The Rev. Ralph Galen, a community minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield who spoke at the vigil, said he believes “health care is a human right’’ and that the conflict between Tufts and its nurses is a symptom of a larger issue with the way health care is funded in the United States.
“The problem is not that nurses are greedy,’’ Galen said in an interview after the vigil. “They’re not asking for Lexus wages.’’
Picketing began at the hospital on Wednesday morning as the nurses launched a 24-hour strike, the first nurses’ strike at a major Boston hospital in 31 years. It has continued through a subsequent lockout at the hospital, which hired the replacement nurses from around the country on a five-day contract.
Both Tufts and the nurses’ union have said they expect tension when staff nurses return to work Monday.
“This is a unique situation and we anticipate that Monday is going to be a difficult day emotionally for everyone involved,’’ said Sean Sullivan, the hospital’s vice president for human resources at the press conference.
Sullivan said the hospital is hoping “all of us here can treat each other respectfully and professionally.’’
The hospital and the union have been unable to agree on terms for the nurses’ pay, pension program, and staffing levels. Both sides have said they will return to the negotiating table, but it is unclear when talks will resume.
“We have not been asked back to the negotiating table by the federal mediator,’’ Rhonda Mann, a Tufts spokeswoman, said Sunday. Mann said she expected the hospital would hear from the mediator on Monday. “We’re looking forward to that.’’
Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch visited the picketing nurses on Saturday. Lynch said in an interview that he has spoken with both sides during negotiations.
“I think the nurses have been extremely fair and reasonable and thoughtful in negotiations,’’ Lynch said. “They’ve made some serious concessions here, and I really think they should be treated fairly.’’
At the hospital Sunday morning, dozens of protesters were marching back and forth in front of its Washington Street entrance with signs that read, “Support Tufts nurses; we’re locked out!’’
Meredith Ellis, 61, who lives in Southern New Hampshire, said she has been a nurse at Tufts for 37 years and works in the neonatal unit.
Ellis said she started picketing Sunday about 8:30 a.m. and had not heard of any incidents involving the replacement nurses.
“We’ve been out here for days,’’ Ellis said, “and we’ve all been very well under control.’’