Nurses Say Staff Reductions Put Tufts Medical Center Patients At Risk; Hospital Denies Charges

The Massachusetts Nurses Association says recent staff reductions and reorganizations at Tufts Medical Center are putting patients at risk, and they cite more than 520 reports of “incidents that jeopardized patient care in the last year.”

Care is being dangerously compromised, they say, due to: “delays in nursing assessment, delays in the administration of medications and tests, nurses missing significant changes in patients’ health status…patients falling due to lack of assistance with getting up and moving around and patients being left in soiled beds for hours at a time.”

Officials at the medical center deny the charges and say the statements are a “union tactic” for contract negotiations.

The 1,200 RNs at Tufts are currently negotiating a new contract, and seeking “safe staffing levels, and prohibitions against forced overtime and the inappropriate floating of nurses.” Today they are holding a candlelight vigil to protest the staffing levels.

Barbara Tiller, a nurse at Tufts Medical Center for 21 years, said that due to several factors — including the center’s new care delivery model and cost-savings plan, and the fact that the nursing ranks have dwindled — patient care has suffered. “The upshot is fewer nurses caring for more patients,” Tiller said in an interview. “Patients are laying in their beds hoping someone will care for them and there are fewer and fewer of us to do that. Medications are late, tubes don’t get changed, people are laying in wet beds.”

In a letter last May to the medical center’s Board of Trustees, nurses cited several examples of unsafe practices that led to bad patient care. The medical center says these allegations have been investigated and are all “baseless.”

The reduced nursing staff and other changes means that providers are caring for more patients and that the hospital has gone from “being one of the best staffed hospitals in Boston to the worst staffed hospital in the city,” according to a press release put out by the state nurses association. “To compensate for chronic understaffing, TMC is using mandatory overtime, and is forcing nurses to “float” from one area of the hospital to another where they might not be competent to provide appropriate care.”

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