Photos by Jon Winkler / Lowell Sun
Jon Winkler / Lowell Sun
GROTON — Twelve local residents and medical officials got plenty of car horns honked at them on Thursday showing support for their friends in scrubs at the Nashoba Valley Medical Center.
The residents stood holding signs that read “We Support Our Nashoba RNs” and waved in front of the Nashoba Sports & Physical Therapy building on Boston Road.
The group was meant to draw more public attention to the continuing struggles of nurses at the Ayer hospital, as they look to renegotiate their contracts for better wages, benefits and more stable staffing at the hospital.
The nurses, supported by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, have been negotiating with Steward Health Care System since December. Steward has owned NVMC since May 2011 when the organization, backed by the New York private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, acquired the hospital as it has other hospitals in Utah, Arizona, Arkansas and Massachusetts.
Jennifer Johnson, associate director of media relations for the MNA, said that negotiations are still ongoing with Steward with the 21st session scheduled for July 18. Johnson described the reasoning for the public rally as a means to increase public awareness of the nurses’ struggles. It’s the second public display of support for the nurses after a rally was held in Ayer back in March.
“We’re looking to continue to draw public attention to the nurses’ struggle at the hospital,” Johnson said. “There’s way too many holes in the nurses’ scheduling so we want to put the pressure on Steward.”
That pressure has been building as of late. Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Sheila Harrington went to NVMC last month to speak with NVMC President Korry Dow about the negotiations. Eldridge also attended the public rally in Ayer and one in Groton, holding a banner telling Steward and the hospital to “Put Your Patients Before Profits!”
“I continue to be concerned about the quality of health care at the hospital if working conditions don’t improve,” Eldridge said. “I’ve never been more disrespected by an employer than by Steward in this case.”
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health performed an onsite investigation at the hospital on Thursday after the MNA sent them a letter on June 28.
Marybeth McCabe, the department’s health communications strategy manager, confirmed the inspection occurred in an email but would not reveal specifics about it due to the investigation still being open.
Mary Crotty, a spokesperson for NVMC, issued a statement responding to the rally on Friday afternoon.
“The hospital and our valued nurse team members are making progress in every union negotiating session,” Crotty said in her statement. “We look forward to continuing these scheduled, good faith negotiations. Nashoba Valley Medical Center has successfully increased staffing since this time last year and continues to actively hire across multiple departments.”
Some of the attendees of the Groton event weren’t local but understood the importance of supporting the nurses. One of them was Jackie LeBlanc, a hospice nurse at HealthAlliance Home Health & Hospice in Leominster.
“The nurses have been unfairly treated so it’s good to stand with them even if I don’t work with them,” LeBlanc said. “No one’s happy with any unfair treatment. We’re trying to get public support and let them know the truth.”
Gayle McMahon, a Shirley resident and member of the Northeast Nurses Union, brought along her nine-year-old dog, Rochelle, and fashioned her with a button on her harness that read “We Are One.”
“I hope the hospital gives the nurses what they need to do their job,” McMahon said. “If the nurses end up in a place where they go on strike, what will that do to our community?”
The most outstanding guest at the rally was an inflatable three-headed beast standing between the participants. Johnson said that the dog-like creature is similar to Cerberus, the monster in Greek mythology that would guard the underworld. Since the mythological dog shares a name with the firm that owns the hospital, Johnson said it represents the scary and imposing presence Cerberus and Steward have over the nurses of NVMC.
“The community should be calling our legislators and telling them to call the hospital,” MNA President Donna Kelly-Williams said. “Tell them that the nurses need to be taken care of and resources need to be allocated.”
Jon Winkler: firstname.lastname@example.org