Nurses, Hospital Each Make Case; Talks Resume Tuesday

United Teachers of Lowell President Paul Georges and Rev. Ralph Galen of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield were among those who delivered a letter to Holy Family Hospital President Joseph Roach this morning. (WHAV News photograph.)

Both sides in ongoing negotiations covering 145 registered nurses at Holy Family Hospital at Merrimack Valley, Haverhill, are pondering their next moves as community leaders Thursday appealed for “a good faith effort” to stem staff turnover, called a “detriment of the public’s health.”

Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) representatives and local delegation members personally delivered a letter Thursday to Holy Family President Joseph Roach at the Haverhill campus. It called upon the hospital and parent Steward Health Care to “support the community by respecting the sacrifices and loyalty of the nurses.” The letter to Roach indicated 70 registered nurses, or 41 percent of that staff, left over the past two years “to find employment at other facilities, where they find greater support and respect.” Delegates attending included Merrimack Valley Central Labor Council and United Teachers of Lowell President Paul Georges and Rev. Ralph Galen from United Universalist Church of Wakefield. Georges told WHAV it is “blatantly unfair” as Steward has “taken a corporate strategy” in dealing with the nurses.

“These nurses essentially took ‘zeroes’ for three years in a row in trying to help out the community in the transfer of the hospital and so on. And at this point Steward, I think, has made, in the two hospitals right here, over $14 million in profits and apparently they don’t want to be able to share it with the people who are most instrumental at ensuring the success of the hospital and giving great care,” Georges said. “Too often we find that people who are in caring professions are taken advantage of.”

Galen, a Lawrence resident, said his family and the Immigrant City Street Ministry has used the Haverhill hospital and they value nurses who are “the frontline of health.”

“They’re among the first people that you will see when you’re born and among the last when you die and all in between,” Galen said. “I respect the president of this hospital and his staff for creating an environment in which people can be healed. The bottom line, though, is life and health. That’s the most sacred thing that we all share in common. And the nurses do a tremendous job and some of their anxieties and stress should be lifted. They should be making more money.”

MNA Associate Public Communications Director Joseph Markman said the nurses have continued to work under terms of the last contract since its expiration was extended from last March 31 to May 31. He noted two complaints alleging unfair labor practices were filed with the National Labor Relations Board by the nurses since negotiations began.

“Negotiations have gone on so long because Steward was initially refusing to provide information to the nurses that they needed to bargain in good faith. And then Steward was refusing to substantially negotiate. They were refusing to put any real economic or staffing or other proposals on the table and so that really delayed the process,” Markman said.

Markman added while no other labor action is planned, the nurses are “prepared to take any action that’s appropriate to stand up for themselves, for their profession and for their patients.”

Haverhill Education Association President Lisa R. Begley, another local delegate, was not present, as first indicated by the nurses’ union, due to a schedule conflict.

Joseph Roach, president of Holy Family Hospital.

Joseph Roach, president of Holy Family Hospital.

Roach responded, in a letter released after the meeting, the hospital “continued to offer across the board raises and the preservation of existing step increases for MNA members.” However, he added, the hospital provided “not only exceptional, award-winning care, but also to provide more than $4 million in community benefits each year, as certified by the office of the Massachusetts Attorney General.”

“Last year, Holy Family Hospital paid taxes equivalent to the average annual salaries of approximately 23 firefighters, 20 police officers or 18 teachers – all of whom play a vital role in our communities, just like our hospital and its dedicated staff,” Roach wrote. “We are proud to do our part in supporting these vital public safety and education services for area residents and families, in addition to providing exceptional care and hundreds of quality jobs to the community.”

The next negotiating session between the nurses and Steward is scheduled Tuesday, Aug. 23.