By Bill Kirk
---- — METHUEN — Nurses at Holy Family Hospital are planning on holding a demonstration tonight to bring public awareness to what their union says are "dangerous" management practices forcing them to care for too many patients at once.
Billed as a "candlelight vigil," it is actually a protest, said David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the union that has represented the 399 nurses at Holy Family since last July.
"This is a demonstration to convince Steward Health Care and Holy Family Hospital to increase staffing levels," he said. The action comes in context of the union's first-ever contract negotiations.
After the hospital was purchased from the Catholic Archdiocese by a private equity firm in 2010, nurses voted in 2011 to join the Massachusetts Nurses Association. Negotiations for a first-ever contract have been going on since last December, Schildmeier said.
The action tonight is being held for a variety of reasons having to do with the negotiations not just at Holy Family but at Steward Health Care's other hospitals throughout the state, he said. This is the first rally of its kind. The union represents nearly 3,000 nurses at Steward hospitals.
"They've had substandard staffing for a while," Schildmeier said. "In the last year, when nurses leave, they're not replaced. Patient loads are going up. At one of our recent negotiating sessions, we had nurses provide testimony about what's going on."
Steward spokesman Chris Murphy could not be reached for comment this morning.
Schildmeier said he expects about 100 people to show up for tonight's demonstration, including nurses as well as community and state activists.
He said the action is not a lead-up to a strike.
"Nurses have the power to strike, but that is not being contemplated," he said. "We are trying to settle without anything like that. The issue of staffing is very important, and the public has the most to lose."
The vigil runs from 6-8 p.m. and will be located at 70 East Main St., across from the main entrance to the hospital.
In a press release issued this morning, Gayle Burke, RN and co-chair of the local bargaining unit at Holy Family, said nurses on every floor and in every unit are being forced to care for too many patients at once.
"Yet, management continues to push the envelope when it comes to staffing, and patient safety is regularly jeopardized as a result,” she said. "Adding insult to injury, management is reluctant at best to have a legitimate, proactive conversation with us about how to improve this situation.”