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Nurses Protest 'Appreciation Gala' Amidst Layoffs

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   September 21, 2010

Nurses from a Massachusetts health system were supposed to be gathered at a glittering gala this week, being feted by the organization and recognizing some special nurses who were nominated for awards by their peers.

Instead, the gala was cancelled last week after nurses at UMass Memorial Health Care system's UMass Memorial, Hahnemann, Home Health and Hospice, and UMass University Medical Center campuses protested and threatened to picket the event.

Why would nurses want to cancel an event honoring them? Because they are up in arms over what they feel is disrespect from hospital administrators and to protest their concern for patient safety.

UMass Memorial recently announced plans to close a 28-bed med-surg floor, potentially laying off 27 RNs and assorted support staff, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association. The MNA says the decision comes despite the recent need for the hospital to declare a "bed emergency"—entailing enforced overtime for nurses and support staff—due to lack of beds for patients and the necessity of staff to care for them.

In addition to the threatened closure of the med-surg unit, nurses are concerned about talks of significant cuts to support staff and potential wage cuts for home health nurses. MNA alleges that the system has brought in consultants to advise on adopting Lean principles and that the CEO has said there will be significant restructuring throughout the system.

Considering the turmoil, the arrival of the annual gala was rubbing salt into an open wound.

"What we decided is that it was poor timing to continue to do this [gala] and honor about 10 or 12 nurses when there are about 2,000 nurses who work there every day who really need to be appreciated," says Kathie Logan, an intravenous RN and co-chair of the union on the UMass University campus. "Not only are they losing their jobs, but by closing this floor they are taking away the opportunity for patients to come in and get services."

"Closing the floor, taking services away from patients, but spending money to have big dinner at the DCU center? I'd rather see the money spent on patient care at the bedside," says Lynne Starbard, an RN in the family-centered maternity unit and co-chair of the bargaining unit at Memorial Campus, Hahnemann Campus, and Home Health and Hospice. "With flu and pneumonia season coming up, we can't afford to lose patient beds and caregivers."

Starbard explains that nurses felt there wasn't anything to celebrate and that they have a dim view of management right now. "It's very depressing as a nurse to feel that our opinion doesn't matter. There's disrespect for our knowledge and our work."

I reached out to the health system to hear their side of the story, but at press time had received no response. 

Nurses at the UMass Memorial campus have been involved in contract disputes for a year and still have not come to an agreement. Nurses at the UMass University campus, however, finalized their contract months ago.

Considering the long-running dispute, I'm sure hospital leadership regrets the timing of the gala, which was scheduled a year in advance. The case struck me as a cautionary tale for leadership at other organizations. Reward and recognition of employees is important, but it can never be a panacea for an organization's ills.

Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at

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