With a merger or sale of Northeast Health Systems to one of four larger organizations looming at the end of the month, nurses from Addison Gilbert Hospital took their case to the street Wednesday to demand assurances that "successor language" protecting their jobs be included in any new contract.
The nurses, unionized through the Massachusetts Nurses Association, protested from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. outside Addison Gilbert, waving signs decrying alleged "union busting," and calling for any sale to maintain Addison Gilbert's level of patient care.
The protest garnered car-horn support from a number of passing residents, city employees, and school bus drivers.
Most of the hospital's 100 nurses in all stood at different times in the streetside protest at the hospital entrance from Washington Street, said Jeanine Burns, an Emergency Room RN and bargaining unit secretary, with at least 30 in the line at all times.
Jim Preston, an Intensive Care Unit nurse at Addison Gilbert Hospital, noted that much of the nursing staff lives in the city and knows their patients. He said he recognized most of the people who drove by the protest, honking their car-horns in support.
"We've taken care of all of these people," said Burns.
Burns said the protest centers on concern that, among other things, language in the current contract allows nurses to speak on behalf of their patients; with no guarantee that a new company will pick up the contract, she said, nurses may lose their voices in advocating for patients.
In a statement to the Times last week, Pauline Pike, the vice president of Northeast Hospital Corporation, said the union won't be endangered in any sale. She said that the nursing staff's union would remain intact and be recognized in any merger or acquisition.
Preston, however, said he's concerned that the Northeast management may not have a full view of what the hospital means to the community. He said the hospital should still be a humanitarian business, and said he believes management's focus rests firmly on the financial bottom line.
Nurses from Beverly Hospital held a concurrent protest Wednesday as well. Together, the Beverly staff and Addison Gilbert nurses compromise around 700 nurses. A few nurses from hospitals as far afield as Cambridge, and a small group of Gloucester residents joined in the Addison Gilbert protest throughout the day.
Addison Gilbert Public Relations manager Gerald MacKillop said Wednesday's protests did not have any effect on patient care or patient access to the hospital.
In a statement to the Times, nurses asked the public to contact Northeast CEO Ken Hanover concerning the sale and the union contract.
Four Health Care companies have been confirmed as suitors for Northeast Health, which also includes Bay Ridge hospital in Lynn, the Beverly Hospital at Danvers outpatient facility in addition to Beverly Hospital and Addison Gilbert.
The bidders include nonprofits Beth Israel Deaconess and Lahey Clinic - neither of which has a unionized nursing staff, and for-profits Vanguard Health Care and Steward Health Care, where nurses are unionized.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.