Tufts Medical CEO quote inflames negotiations

Michael Wagner, the CEO of Tufts Medical Center, is trying to walk back controversial comments he made about nurse staffing levels in a bid to get deadlocked contract negotiations with his hospital’s nurses back on track.

After 18 months of negotiation, the hospital and its nurses have largely resolved differences over wages and retirement benefits. But the two sides remain far apart on an issue important to the Massachusetts Nurses Association — nurse staffing levels.

The union favors minimum nurse staffing levels in hospital units, while administrators want more flexibility in assigning employees. The two sides have been trying to find common ground, kicking around proposals to create special teams of nurses to handle IVs and code responses.

According to the Boston Globe, the negotiations have been hampered by ill will over comments Wagner made to CommonWealth minimizing the connection between quality care and minimum nurse-patient ratios. “We have spent a lot of time developing an evidence-based practice in patient care,” Wagner said. “Nurses are in the middle of all that, but to say that quality of care is dependent on the number of nurses is so monochromatic, so incorrect. Patient care quality has nothing to do with the number of nurses. To connect the two is moronic.”

Wagner made his comment in July, when the 1,200 nurses at Tufts Medical Center staged a one-day walkout, but the story in CommonWealth didn’t appear until October. The timing soured ongoing talks between the nurses and the hospital, and prompted Wagner to apologize in an email to nurses saying his quote was taken out of context. He said his quote was directed at the idea of incorporating rigid nurse staffing levels into state law, an approach favored by the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the focus of the CommonWealth article, and not at nurse staffing in general.

“Nurse staffing is critical to the Medical Center’s mission of providing high quality care,” Wagner said in his email. “I didn’t do a good job of articulating that in the CommonWealth article. I apologize for that.”



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