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Latest News - December 2010

December 03, 2010
Nurse Union Rails At Hospital Leaders
Source: The Berkshire Eagle
By: Jennifer Huberdeau

NORTH ADAMS -- The registered nurses union at North Adams Regional Hospital filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday, accusing hospital administrators of failing to provide them with information about a possible affiliation with a larger health care organization and its Critical Access Hospital designation.

Union officials also charge the hospital has failed to provide any "substantive" information for 11 requests for information made in November, including topics such as mandatory overtime, patient census counts and staffing levels in its Coronary Care Unit.

However, hospital administrators said Thursday they were surprised by the union's actions and that they have provided information, when appropriate, to all of their stakeholders, including the union, throughout the lengthy discussions about an affiliation and its application to become a Critical Access Hospital.

"While the hospital claims they are being very open and transparent, they continue to refuse to provide us with information about the future of the hospital," Ruth O'Hearn, chairwoman of the local Massachusetts Nurses Association bargaining unit, said in a release. "The status of NARH's current negotiations with other institutions and their application to become a Critical Access Hospital will have a very direct effect on our members and our community.

"Because of their refusal to answer our questions, we were left with no alternative

but to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board. It is our hope that the hospital will resolve this impasse and provide the requested information as an act of openness."

The nurses ended eight months of contentious negotiations with the hospital on Sept. 2, a day before a planned strike was to take place. During the negotiations process, hospital officials said they were in talks with several larger health care organizations, including Berkshire Medical Center, as part of a plan to become financially solvent.

In addition to the affiliation, the hospital is seeking the federal designation as a Critical Access Hospital, which would allow it to receive about $2 million more a year in Medicare funds and is working with bondholders to reduce the hospital's debt through a Chapter 11 restructuring -- which includes current work with a consultant to reduce operational costs.

Northern Berkshire Healthcare, the hospital's parent company, also completed the sale of the Sweetwood Continuing Care Retirement Community and the Sweet Brook Transitional Care and Living Centers in August, as a way to reduce operational spending.

"The leadership of North Adams Regional Hospital has always been committed to openness and transparency during our conversations about becoming a Critical Access Hospital and around affiliation with another health care organization," Paul Hopkins, director of community relations, said Thursday. "We do so because we are acutely aware of NARH's importance in the community, and believe that transparency is the best way to ensure our mission of continuing to provide high quality care."

He added, "The processes we must work through to achieve these goals are long and complex; however, we are committed to sharing the appropriate information, in a timely fashion, with all of our stakeholders. We believe we have proven that we are dedicated to working closely with all the parties who are affected by these discussions, including our colleagues at the Massachusetts Nurses Association, and so we find these charges extremely surprising."



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