Picket by Tewksbury Hospital Nurses and Healthcare Professionals Scheduled for May 13 at Tewksbury Public Library

Safety, Workplace Violence, Low Morale, and Staff Recruitment/Retention

Picket follows letter to DMH Commissioner calling for immediate intervention to address safety concerns resulting from the increase of forensic (court-involved) patients without the staff to provide appropriate care

TEWKSBURY, Mass., May 10, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Nurses and healthcare professionals (HCPs) working at the state-owned and operated Tewksbury State Hospital, and who are unionized with the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), will hold an informational picket in front of the Tewksbury Public Library on Monday, May 13 from 2 to 4 p.m. The picket aims to draw public attention to the acute problems of on-campus safety, workplace violence, low morale, and nurse recruitment/retention — all of which are having a devastating effect on the staff’s ability to provide safe patient care.

When:         

Monday, May 13, 2 to 4 p.m.

Where:       

At the Tewksbury Public Library, located at 300 Chandler Street, Tewksbury

Who:           

MNA nurses and healthcare professionals working at Tewksbury; community
supporters; friends and neighbors; and local elected leaders

Why:           

To draw public attention to the tremendous problems of on-campus safety and
employee morale which are now affecting nurse recruitment/retention and the
delivery of safe patient care

Longstanding Problems with Safety, Security, & Workplace Violence

A recent letter sent to Department of Mental Health Commissioner Brooke Doyle from Tewksbury union leaders called on the commissioner to immediately address the “longstanding and escalating issues related to dramatic increases in staff and patient assaults, lax security protocols, and the lack of an appropriate response from the administration.”

The Tewksbury nurses and health professionals cite a dramatic increase in the state’s admission of forensic patients to the hospital, without providing the staffing levels and security protocols that are required to care for this complex population of patients. The increased utilization of state-operated facilities for the care of forensic patients is not limited to Tewksbury Hospital but is an issue for many facilities, including the Worcester Recovery Center Hospital and Taunton State Hospital. 

The letter states that, for too long, Tewksbury’s nurses and HCPs have been pushing hospital management to address the lack of safety on campus, but little has been done in response. It also references one of the most recent — and most disturbing — incidents of workplace violence at Tewksbury: The widely publicized stabbing of one patient by another on Feb. 15 of this year.

“The incident, and management’s lackluster response to it,” the letter reads, “shook our staff as it is just one of several such events over the last few years. It also follows a CBS News Report from November of 2023 which described ‘nearly 3,000 police calls to the Tewksbury State Hospital in the last three years.'”

“Management has made no appreciable differences in their safety standards despite our demands,” said Christine Guerrero, co-chair of the state-wide, MNA bargaining that Tewksbury is part of (Unit 7). “Most disturbing, the hospital’s forensic patients are not separated from the general population, and our patients are sicker than ever before. But safely caring for them in this dangerous and unpredictable environment is unsustainable.”

Research specific to workplace violence supports the union’s demands for in-hospital improvements and protocols:

  • According to a recent GAO report, violence against healthcare workers occurs at a rate five times to twelve times higher than the estimated rates for workers overall.
  • Every 38 minutes in a Massachusetts healthcare facility, someone is either physically assaulted, endures verbal abuse, or is threatened, according to the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association.
  • The MNA’s recently released 2024 “State of Nursing in Massachusetts’ Survey” found that 68% of the state’s nurses reported experiencing at least one incident of violence in the past two years, while 58% said they received no additional support from their employer when they encountered violence.
  • And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that healthcare workers experience the most nonfatal workplace violence as compared to other professions, accounting for nearly 70% of all non-fatal workplace assaults.

The MNA has filed legislation at the state level called, “An Act Providing Appropriate Care for Certain Populations.” This bill would require the state to create forensic-specific units where complex, and sometimes violent, patients can receive care in units that have the staffing levels and security protocols needed to protect both patients and staff. The language of this bill was also submitted as an MNA proposal in the union’s most recent contract negotiation with the state, but it was rejected.

Low Morale and Unfairness Intersect with Staff Recruitment and Retention

On-the-job violence has brought Tewksbury’s staff of nurses and HCPs to a breaking point; fear runs high, and morale runs low. In addition, the hospital has long been understaffed, with the hospital struggling to retain staff — and to recruit new staff — due part to a wage scale that was not market competitive. A recent contract settlement improved that wage scale, and both the union and management hoped it would remedy the recruitment/retention issue.

But it recently became known that there is a vast disparity in hiring practices at the hospital, with some brand-new nurses being hired full-time and at rates higher than those who have worked at Tewksbury for 30 years.

“In some instances, those 30-year nurses are supervising the new nurses who are making better pay,” said David Guiney, MNA bargaining unit co-chair. “This just speaks to the overall demoralization that runs rampant through Tewksbury.”

“Forcing us to work in dangerous and unpredictable conditions while simultaneously undercutting longtime staff is not a way to improve patient care. And it is not a way to improve staff recruitment and retention either,” added Guiney. “Tewksbury needs to do better, now.”

More About the Tewksbury Nurses and HCPs

The MNA nurses and HCPs at Tewksbury are part of a state-wide bargaining unit called Unit 7, which includes more than 1,300 state-employed registered nurses, physicians, pharmacists, psychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, dentists, speech and hearing therapists, and podiatrists. They work in just about every department in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts including the State Departments of Mental Health, Developmental Services, Public Health, Youth Services, Corrections, Medical Assistance, Social Services, Public Welfare, Transportation, Public Works, Administration and Finance, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Board of Registration in Nursing, the Board of Registration in Medicine, the Division of Industrial Accident, and the Division of Employment Security. They work in state-operated hospitals, state offices, group homes, clinics, health centers, nursing homes, schools, prisons, and shelters. These facilities are in every corner of the state. Unit 7 members provide a variety of health care and mental health services to some of the most vulnerable citizens of the Commonwealth, including the developmentally disabled, mentally ill, the homeless, prisoners, medically compromised foster children, disabled veterans, HIV and drug-affected mothers, and children.

MassNurses.org │ Facebook.com/MassNurses │ Twitter.com/MassNurses

Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on healthcare issues affecting nurses and the public.

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SOURCE Massachusetts Nurses Association

Picket by Tewksbury Hospital Nurses and Healthcare Professionals Scheduled for May 13 at Tewksbury Public Library WeeklyReviewer

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