Nurses work overtime, but by how much?

  • Nurses and their supporters picket along High Street outside the Baystate Franklin Medical Center on Thursday. April 27, 2017.

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/24/2017 5:33:51 PM

GREENFIELD — Roughly six months into contract negotiations with Baystate Franklin Medical Center, the nurses union requested payroll data to support its contention the staff is overworked.

To bolster the argument in press statements, the union pointed to nearly 4,000 shifts in the past year when nurses logged more than 12 hours at a stretch.

“I think these numbers speak for themselves,” local union leader Donna Stern said of the data. “I don’t think there should be any confusion of whether nurses are overworking.”

However, detailed review of the data shows a more nuanced and less severe picture than implied by the way the union characterized the data. Many of those nearly 4,000 shifts were nurses who worked scheduled 12-hour stints and 85 percent of them worked over their shift by less than an hour.

A close look at the data shows that nurses worked four hours or more of overtime in about 3.5 percent of all shifts in the past year. This typically came after eight-hour shifts.

Most of the time when nurses worked more than 12 hours, it came as an additional half hour to a scheduled 12-hour shift.

The nurses sought and received the payroll data amid ongoing negotiations that have led the Massachusetts Nurses Association to file unfair labor charges and stage an informational picket outside of the hospital. The union’s demands include addressing “understaffing” and revising overtime pay structure, which currently does not pay time-and-a-half until after the first hour of overtime worked.

The payroll data does show a handful of cases when nurses worked over the 16-hour state legal limit for “mandatory nurses overtime,” which the hospital had to report to the Department of Public Health. The longest overtime shift lasted about nine hours past its scheduled end time. These violations were a rare exception. Less than a 10th of 1 percent of the total shifts violated the overtime limit.

Among the data provided to the nurses union, there were 27 shifts that lasted longer than 16 hours, with the longest at 17.5 hours.

State law says that nursing shifts should not be scheduled longer than 12 hours and cannot exceed 16 hours in a 24-hour work period, except in the case of an emergency.

Each report of excessive OT is “carefully reviewed” and the department then decides if an “additional follow-up with the facility is necessary,” according to Tom Lyons, a spokesman for the state public health department.

Out of the 20 reports Baystate Franklin Medical Center filed in the calendar year of 2016, all of them cited “hospital emergency” as the reason for violating the law, according to the Department of Public Health.

In response to the nurses union press release headlining the 3,980 shifts that went over 12 hours, Baystate Franklin President Cindy Russo noted that in 89 percent of those shifts, nurses worked less than 13 total hours.

The existence of 12-hours shifts is not at issue in the negotiations and is allowed in the current contract. But the nurses argue generally that they are being pressed into overtime too often because of poor management and want it reduced, arguing tired nurses can make mistakes, so the status quo is dangerous for patients.

They also want to be paid for all hours worked after a regular shift. Under the current contract, time-and-a-half is paid by the minute, but is not paid until the nurse has worked one hour over the scheduled shift.

The nurses also have objected to Russo’s comment about whether her staff is working too many hours, as the nurses have claimed.

Russo told the Greenfield Recorder April 3, “As an organization here, do I feel that our staff is overworked? That’s not my opinion.”

Local MNA union chairwoman Stern responded to Russo’s statement in the context of the payroll data, saying that it proves the nurses are being overworked.

“Not only what she said was inaccurate but it was callous,” Stern said.

In response, Russo discussed the nature of the nursing profession, how the needs of individual patients can fluctuate and the amount of patients that come into the hospital at any given time can fluctuate.

“Patients don’t have needs based upon a clock,” Russo said. “Health care is a calling, not just a 9 to 5, or a 7 to 3 job.”

She also said that if a “nurse feels overworked, they don’t have to pick up the shifts they have.”

Responding to this statement, Stern said: “If she were actually at the bedside, she would know that’s not a legal answer.”

Stern said that often times nurses cannot leave their shift if they feel overworked because there is no one to replace them. Instead it is their legal obligation, she said, to stay at the bedside.

“You can be exhausted, but if there’s no one to replace you, you can’t (leave),” Stern said. “That’s called abandonment.”

Recently the hospital has hired “travelers,” who fill in gaps in the schedule. If there is an opening, they can hire these per diem nurses to come in and work.

“Magically they can hire all of these travelers, and we’re grateful, but that’s not a long-term solution,” Stern said.

You can reach
Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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