WESTFIELD- Nurses from Baystate Noble Hospital (BNH) and the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) held a socially distant informational picket OCt. 21 to urge Baystate Health to agree to a fair contract with the union.
More than two dozen nurses stood outside BNH on Court Street with signs advocating for a better contract and to protest the recent cuts made to BNH facilities and staff.
“Baystate Noble Hospital’s nurses are in contract negotiations now. We really want that contract to reflect respect for the nurses who have worked COVID one surge at a time. We just got over one, now we are in a second one, it looks like,” said Paul Dubin, the co-chair of the MNA’s Bargaining Committee.
Dubin also referenced a recent survey in which upwards of 90 percent of respondents said they did not approve of recent cuts to BNH and planned future cuts such as the Fowler Mental Health Wing.
Matt Garlo, the Democratic candidate for state representative, also spoke in support of the nurses and the return of services to BNH.
“I may not have a hand in the contract negotiations right now, I will absolutely be a voice for those in our community who are overwhelmingly in support of keeping that care local,” said Garlo.
Ward 3 City Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane spoke after Garlo. BNH is located in Ward 3 and she lives close to the hospital.
“I am particularly concerned about the potential closure of the Fowler Wing. I think it is important to keep behavioral health as local as possible,” said Matthews-Kane.
She said there are already too many barriers to accessing mental health services, so we should not add an additional geographic barrier on top of that. The current proposal from Baystate Health would move mental health services from the Fowler Wing in BNH to a new dedicated mental health facility being constructed, most likely in Holyoke.
“I am someone who taught at Westfield State for over a decade. I was really touched when I heard someone from their counseling center speak and say how important the Fowler Wing is for the students who are having health crises,” said Matthews-Kane.
Lydia Wood, the field organizer for the Massachusetts Area Leader Federation said that the plan to cut mental health services and the cuts to intensive care last year are part of a familiar “cruel pattern” in hospitals across the state.
Mary Martin, who has worked at BNH for more than 30 years and in the Emergency Department for the last 25 years, said the nurses did the best they could considering the reduction in staff they faced last year right before flu season.
“A lot of patients are boarding in the ER right now. We can have up to 10 patients at a time,” said Martin, “As you can imagine our ER is not that big.”
She said that the hospital administration has been trying to take away earned time and overtime in their negotiations for a new contract.
In response to the demonstration Wednesday, BNH President Ron Bryant released the following statement:
“We are currently in the midst of negotiating an updated contract with the MNA for Baystate Noble. As a matter of policy, and out of respect for our nurses represented under this contract, we engage in contract negotiations directly with the MNA, not in public settings.
“It remains disappointing that union leadership engages in tactics that disrupt the strong sense of community and collegiality that exists among all employees at Baystate Noble. Our goal is to support our local nurses and work to negotiate a mutually beneficial contract renewal that will allow us to move together into the future.”
Joe Markman, a spokesperson for the MNA, said that the union and the hospital administration will have their 13th negotiation session Oct. 29. He said the administration is pushing the takeaways such as paid time off and overtime.
“We are still focused on fair wages, preserving the services, we have all of those on the table, including preserving the ICU and preserving Fowler,” said Markman.