100-plus locked-out BMC nurses rally in North Adams

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NORTH ADAMSLocked out of the hospital after a one-day strike, more than 100 nurses and members of the community rallied outside the North Adams Campus of Berkshire Medical Center on Thursday evening to advocate for safe staffing levels.

"We're shining a light on BMC not providing what the community needs to have safe care for all patients at all times, and also to restore full services to North County," said Danielle Knutson, a nurse who works at the Wound Center in the North Adams Campus of Berkshire Medical Center.

The rally began at the bottom of Hospital Avenue and included a march across from the campus entrance, which was blocked by multiple North Adams police officers and private security guards as pickets shouted slogans.

"You're standing up and you're speaking truth to power," said Richard Dassatti, co-chair of the North County Cares Coalition, a group that formed in the wake of North Adams Regional Hospital's closure in 2014.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association argues that Berkshire Medical Center reaps more than enough profits — $47 million last year, according to the union — to increase staffing levels at its campuses.

"Other hospitals do not have those over-inflated profit margins. All we are asking for is safe staffing," Knutson said.

The MNA states that Berkshire Health Systems had a profit margin of 9.7 percent in 2016, compared with a profit margin of 3.1 percent for the average Massachusetts hospital.

Berkshire Health Systems, the parent of Berkshire Medical Center, argues that any assessment of its fiscal picture should include all of its entities, not just Berkshire Medical Center as a single entity.

Spokesman Michael Leary says the nonprofit had an operating margin of 3.5 percent in 2016, with about $31.9 million in profit.

Leary highlighted Berkshire Health Systems' continued capital improvements, including the more than $30 million it spent on the new BMC Cancer Center, that average $35 million to $45 million annually. He also noted that since the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital in 2014, Berkshire Health Systems has invested more than $21 million there.

"When you look at our total fiscal outlook, it's not as large as the MNA has tried to portray, and it is always reinvested in our programs and services," Leary said.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter


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