Morton Hospital nurses: Cerberus more concerned with profits than patients

Marc Larocque, Taunton Daily Gazette, December 21, 2011

Taunton - Janet DeMoranville is standing up against a private equity investment firm that now owns Morton Hospital, where she has worked for 13 years, saying the company is more concerned about profits than patients. “They are just out to make money,” said DeMoranville, describing the motives of Cerberus, which has bought 10 hospitals in Massachusetts, including Morton, as part of Steward Health Care. “They don’t care how they do it, or what cuts they have to make to get it. They have to realize that health care is not a money-making business. It’s a patient care industry. That’s what it needs to be about.”

DeMoranville was one of five Morton nurses who joined more than 100 other nurses from the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) and hundreds from other states to protest Cerberus at the firm’s corporate headquarters in New York on Tuesday afternoon. The protest, which received the support of the Occupy Wall Street movement, featured chants against Cerberus, speeches by nurses, and a giant, inflatable three-headed dog with fangs used to mock the firm’s fictional namesake - a canine monster in Greek mythology that guarded the gates of hell.

DeMoranville said although there have been no cuts to services or layoffs at Morton since Steward took over in September, she has seen the way the company and its corporate parent have treated the other nine hospitals in its Massachusetts health care system.

“We are just looking for some security for nurses who have put time and effort to help take care of the patients for so long,” DeMoranville said. “Initially, we were happy Steward was coming. A lot of hospitals they took over were in trouble. But since then they have been making it harder for nurses at these hospitals to care for patients.”

MNA’s complaints

Some of the MNA’s main problems so far with Steward include the firing of 13 nurses in a psychiatric care unit at Carney Hospital after a non-nursing employee assaulted a patient; the firing of a nurse in retaliation for union activity at Holy Family Hospital Methuen for a minor medical error (when she should have received a warning, they say); and the slashing of the intensive care unit at Carney Hospital in half from 14 to six beds with 10 nursing layoffs since Steward took over.

Representatives for the MNA singled out Steward and Cerberus for one issue, slamming them for skimping out on bread and juice used to stabilize patients at Norwood Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton. MNA spokesperson David Schildmeier said that is unacceptable for Cerberus, which bought Chrysler in 2007 before another company bought it last year and has become involved in the arms industry, said that this was ridiculous.

“When the owner of Chrysler can’t provide a loaf of bread to patients, that symbolizes something being very wrong,” Schildmeier said.

Regarding pensions

One of the issues that concerns many nurses, including DeMoranville, is Steward’s pension negotiations with nurses at the Caritas hospitals. Schildmeier said Steward has “renegged” on an agreement to maintain the pension plans for nurses at its former Caritas hospital facilities, and the issue is now in arbitration.

However, Steward spokesperson Christopher Murphy, a spokesman for Steward, called the allegations “totally fabricated,” and said the MNA is pursuing a “militant national agenda” at the expense of patients and the hospital communities.

Murphy said the protest was solely aimed at the nurses at Caritas hospitals getting the pensions they want when “the hospitals don’t have the money.” Additionally, Murphy said Steward had submitted a defined benefit pension plan that matches mutually agreed-upon terms with the MNA, but that the nursing association refused to sign.

Murphy also said the MNA's claims that the terms of the defined benefit plan submitted by Steward do not meet the negotiated terms is directly refuted by the MNA Executive Director Julie Pinkham who testified under oath at a recent arbitration hearing that the items in the limited master agreement between MNA and Steward were included in the plan submitted by Steward, adding that a proposed plan submitted by the MNA to Steward does not contain the mutually agreed-upon terms outlined in the limited master agreement.

Murphy also argued that Steward nurses are actually in the top five percent for national nurse compensation, with a median annual compensation for their nurses is $152,000 a year, while the MNA has disputed that stating that the average is about $80,000.

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