EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

December 10, 2012

Nurses' union, Steward Health Care trade barbs

First rally of its kind at Holy Family

METHUEN — Nurses at Holy Family Hospital held a demonstration last night to protest what they say are cuts to staffing that are endangering patient safety.

But a spokesman for Steward Health Care, which owns the hospital, said the protest had nothing to do with patient safety, and everything to do with outrageously high wage increase requests.

“Their claim is outrageous,” said Christopher Murphy, director of media relations for Steward, which owns Holy Family and nearly a dozen other hospitals across the state. “Staffing levels at the hospital haven’t changed in years. Hospitals have to report staffing to the state. The allegation is preposterous when you can go to the state (Department of Public Health) and learn the facts.”

He added that the nurses, in recent contract negotiations, requested a 27 percent increase in compensation, down from a 59 percent request earlier in the year.

“Massachusetts has a mandated cap on health care cost increases of 3.6 percent,” he said. “With those kinds of numbers, where should we make the cuts? Who should we eliminate? What services should we cut?”

The Massachusetts Nurses Association sent out a press release yesterday morning saying that the vigil was being held across from the main entrance to the hospital from 6-8 p.m. A union spokesman said he expected about 100 people to attend.

The head of the nurses’ union at the hospital, Gail Burke, 55, of Methuen, said the protest was held because “we saw changes going on and the nurses weren’t part of the decision making. We’ve been in negotiations since last year, and things were going smoothly until we got to the money issue. Everything in the contract, we met and decided on, now that it’s come to salaries and earned time and holidays and pension, now they seem to be dragging their feet.”

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