Scott/My Turn: Unhealthy message
As a physician at Baystate Franklin Medical Center and a community member, I was dismayed to hear of the nursing strike authorization vote. While I have always been a staunch supporter of labor, I feel another strike at BFMC is the wrong approach to the conflict about overtime pay. Furthermore, I feel that the way the MNA campaign has been conducted is damaging to our hospital and our community.
Like all Greenfield residents, I received a flier several months ago inviting me to a public meeting to “stop medical services from being removed from Franklin County.” I received alarmed calls from friends and family after this mailing, wondering why Baystate Health was determined to deprive us of local access to health care. I was dumbfounded.
In the nine years I have worked here, I have witnessed ongoing efforts to attract physicians and increase local services. I have personally participated in efforts to recruit hospitalists, emergency physicians, gastroenterologists, urologists, neurologists and primary care physicians. BFMC hired a second pulmonologist in July 2012, and since then I have worked with him and others to enhance the capability of our ICU to provide state-of-the-art care to critically ill patients. We now routinely provide excellent care, with excellent outcomes, to patients who would have been transferred to Springfield when I began working here. Space precludes listing every specialty, service and procedure that has become more available since I was hired and work continues unabated. Diverting patients to Springfield is clearly not a goal of Baystate Health.
Recent communications from the MNA suggest that without the requirement to pay time-and-a-half for daily overtime, it might become hospital policy to schedule nurses for shorter shifts and then compel them to stay longer, effectively abusing the nurses and potentially creating an unsafe environment in the hospital. This is frightening. No one wants their loved one to be cared for by exhausted, exploited nurses. Hospital leaders don’t want this, either.
The effect of these messages is to create distrust and fear. Presumably, the hope is that to minimize the damage to their reputation, Baystate Health will concede the overtime issue at BFMC.
Baystate Franklin is caught in the crossfire of a larger fight, led by forces that are not concerned with damage to our community or hospital. A win on this issue by the MNA would give them, and their national affiliate National Nurses United, leverage in similar disputes across the country. For Baystate Health to concede this issue would create a precedent with unwelcome implications for management at other hospitals. The outcome at BFMC is important to many other organizations that have no reason to care if our hospital is destroyed in the process.
As a strong supporter of labor, I want scheduling and pay to be predictable and fair for all workers everywhere. Weekly overtime — paid after an employee works 40 hours in a week — is the model Baystate adopted two years ago. I would prefer nurses (and all staff) to be paid overtime rates for every hour worked beyond the end of their scheduled shift. However, there are financial realities that cannot be ignored.
Money is being drained from hospitals. Medicare reimbursement rates continue to decline and the little-known Federal “Recovery Audit Contractor” program has begun taking money back from our hospitals. The recession hit Franklin County hard, making it harder for patients to pay for medical care, further decreasing income for the hospital.
Hospital volumes are variable. Staffing is based on historical census and sometimes the numbers don’t match. At times, we have all had to stay late to care for our patients. I wish we could all get time and a half pay when that happens, but BMC nurses don’t and other Baystate hourly employees don’t either. It’s not ideal, and I understand nurses’ frustration. But it’s a sure thing that BFMC is not going to give in on this issue with the current dismal financial picture. It will not happen. As in any relationship, the time comes when you have to ask yourself, would you rather be happy or would you rather be right? Continued smear tactics and another strike will only make BFMC a less respected hospital, and a less desirable place to work, with no discernible benefit to anyone.
Every time the MNA paints the picture of Baystate Franklin as unsafe, and Baystate Health as sinister, it undermines all that’s been done to create and maintain this vital community hospital. In our hospital, nurses and doctors provide exceptional care. We regularly earn high marks for safety and quality, and we continually strive to improve. I have the deepest respect for my nursing colleagues and the work they do. I have chosen BFMC for my career and I am saddened to see its reputation dragged through the mud for an unwinnable cause.
Karen M. Scott is a doctor in Greenfield.