My Turn: Front-line workers the heart and soul of any community hospital

  • Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 7/4/2022 8:06:14 PM
Modified: 7/4/2022 8:03:35 PM

Franklin Medical Center is my community hospital and has played an important role in my family for nearly 20 years. I’m disappointed and outraged that in the midst of the greatest medical crisis of our lifetimes, the corporate executives at Baystate are funding bonuses for themselves while not even meeting the cost of inflation for their front-line workers.

Front-line workers are the heart of any hospital. Seventeen years ago when my first child was born at Franklin, it was the nurses who caught me when I fainted on the bathroom floor the first time I tried to get up. Nurses helped us in the middle of the night when my son wouldn’t sleep anywhere but in our arms. Nurses held weekly support groups for new parents. On my son’s first birthday we brought the nurses at the birthplace cookies because they’d been such an important part of his first year. When my daughter was born we chose Franklin again because we felt confident we’d get great care there. We were not disappointed.

When my son had his first anaphylactic reaction we took him to Franklin. We learned that day that if exposed to even small amounts of his allergen his airway could close in a matter of minutes. Proximity to a hospital we trust in our own community became more important than ever.

My kids are 17 and 11 now, and Franklin is still our local hospital. The woman who does mammograms makes me so comfortable that I associate an otherwise unpleasant procedure with laughter. Last year when I had a health scare it was the CT Scan workers who went out of their way to keep me comfortable and see me through all of the necessary testing.

Early last fall though, on a trip to the ER with an injured, not-yet vaccinated child I didn’t recognize the hospital I’ve loved for all of these years. The front-line workers were doing their best but were very understaffed. They didn’t feel they could accommodate my request that we wait outside to avoid sitting in the waiting room with a coughing woman who was yelling about how she wouldn’t wear a mask. I don’t blame them, they simply didn’t have the staff to send someone out to get us or the time to call us to come in. Once admitted we waited a long time on a stretcher in a busy hallway. I left hours later with a brace that didn’t fit, a child who couldn’t walk and instructions to follow up somewhere else. The nurses were doing everything they could without anywhere near the support they needed. Unfortunately, two years into this pandemic, quality of care is compromised through no fault of the people providing it.

Until that night at the ER I’d always felt like my family was in great hands at Franklin. Lately I’ve wondered whether or not front-line workers at Franklin are in good hands in our community? Are we as a community taking care of the people we turn to when we need care?

I remember participating in a car caravan to express appreciation for the front-line workers early in the COVID-19 pandemic. We circled the hospital holding signs and honking horns. Workers came to the windows and waved. Then we returned to the safety of our homes and they returned to risking their lives for their community, and for wages that don’t even meet their cost of living. I can only imagine what their days looked like in the time between that caravan and the night of my daughter’s ER visit. Meanwhile they can’t pay their rent while Baystate CEO Mark Keroack made $6.4 million dollars between 2018 and 2020 and the average executive salary at Baystate Health is $240,776.

Baystate serves a crucial role in Franklin County. Whether it is an issue of resources like transportation or of the kind of critical response time my son might need, many of us cannot afford to travel 30 minutes or more for health care. We need a local hospital. The least we can do is advocate for the front-line workers in our community hospital to have the training, staffing, pay and benefits they need to stay here and remain part of our community.

Baystate executives should prioritize fair wages for the people on the front lines who have been risking too much for too long with too little. Franklin County needs a community hospital that values front-line workers and the safety of their patients over profit. 

Ali Wicks-Lim lives in Montague. 


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