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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Union Nurses At Brattleboro Retreat Push Back On Schedule Changes

Nurses from the Brattleboro Retreat stand outside the hospital to bring attention to recent changes made to their schedules.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
VPR
Nurses from the Brattleboro Retreat stand outside the hospital Friday to bring attention to recent changes made to their schedules.

Nurses at the Brattleboro Retreat have been holding informational pickets in front of the southern Vermont psychiatric hospital to bring attention to what they say are radical schedule changes enacted by the administration that violate their union contract.On Friday afternoon about 40 nurses stood in front of the Retreat, holding signs and acknowledging steady beeps of support from passing motorists.

Nurse Edward Dowd has been working at the Retreat for 35 years, and he said the pickets have been scheduled to pressure the administration and bring attention to the issue.

“What we’re looking for is some change," he said, as honking motorists drove by the picket. "We’re letting them [the administration] know loud and clear — and the public as well, because this hospital serves the community. So we’re letting the public know in a loud, clear voice that things are wrong."

There are more than 300 nurses in the union at the Brattleboro Retreat. About a month ago, the nurses found out that they'd be expected to change the days of the week they work.

"... This hospital serves the community. So we're letting the public know in a loud, clear voice that things are wrong." — Edward Dowd, Brattleboro Retreat nurse

Dowd said the nurses found out about the schedule changes in an email message in mid-June without any prior conversations or input. The schedule changes also come as the nurses union is preparing to negotiate a new contract.

“This has been a very difficult administration to negotiate with," Dowd said. "So this has been difficult. So we anticipate this is not going to be easy negotiations. We are going to go into it probably before October. But again, everyone's geared. Everyone’s ready. This is not going to be easy. We know, just by the personalities we’re dealing with, this is going to be hard."

Meghan Baston, the Brattleboro Retreat's chief nursing officer, said the administration didn’t see the schedule changes as affecting the contract.

She said the hospital gave the employees a 30-day notice, and she’s been surprised that the staff took their issue out into the public.

“I respect how distressing this is to some folks who work here. And to me, the most distressing part from an administration perspective is the perception that we don’t respect our employees," said Baston. "And so I would never — and none of us administratively would — make a decision, willfully, I think, that would purposefully induce this feeling in our employees."

"I respect how distressing this is to some folks who work here. And to me, the most distressing part from an administration perspective is the perception that we don’t respect our employees." — Meghan Baston, Brattleboro Retreat's chief nursing officer

The Retreat has had a growing role in the state’s psychiatric hospital system, which has forced changes in what is expected from the nursing staff. The former scheduling system, which Baston said was built more around the scheduling needs of the staff, just wasn’t working for a 24-hour acute care psychiatric hospital.

“It’s not just this hospital that’s changed in the last 10 years drastically. It’s health care," Baston said. "And so in order to be able to keep up with the best and safest ways to take care of our patients, and to be able to meet the needs of a growing, acute population of patients, we also need to change. Right? And change is difficult."

Baston said the administration has been able to satisfy some of the scheduling conflicts by working one-on-one with some of the staff, and she hoped to continue with more of that dialogue, despite the ongoing pickets in front of the hospital.

Disclosure: The Brattleboro Retreat is a VPR underwriter.

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