BHS to pay $49K for around-the-clock police coverage during Mass Nurses Association strike, lockout

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PITTSFIELD — In the Berkshires, John Q. Citizen's tax bill doesn't include the nurses strike.

Berkshire Health Systems will pay the total cost — about $49,671.98 — of around-the-clock police coverage during the nurses strike and lockout this month.

BHS is also paying all other expenses associated with responding to the strike, including the cost of private security.

The strike impacted Berkshire Medical Center and the Hillcrest Campus of BMC in Pittsfield, as well as the North Adams Campus of BMC.

An impasse over staffing levels and wages led to the one-day strike, which began at 7 a.m. Oct. 3.

The Pittsfield Police Department provided most of the law enforcement coverage, for a final cost of $39,581.66.

Coverage by officers from Dalton and Cheshire is included in this number. Both total less than $2,000 each.

Members of these departments served on three nonconsecutive days during the four-day lockout.

As of Oct. 23, the Pittsfield Police Department had not yet billed BHS.

North Adams police officers also provided around-the-clock coverage at the North Adams Campus of BMC, for a total approximate cost of $10,090.32, said North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio in an email.

Depending on the day and time, one to three officers of the North Adams Police Department were on-site.

The department has billed BHS for its coverage.

BHS is sticking to its initial estimate of $4 million in costs for preparing and responding to the strike.

That estimate reflects savings that BHS saw from not paying its typical workforce for five days.

The replacement workers from U.S. Nursing Corp. were paid more than the regular nurses generally receive, but BHS did not pay for their benefits, David Phelps, president and CEO of Berkshire Health Systems, told The Eagle before the strike.

U.S. Nursing Corp. provided 247 replacement nurses.

BHS also contributed to the cost of housing the nurses and bringing them to Berkshire County.

During the strike, private security staff provided around-the-clock coverage.

Security staff conducted roving patrols on all three campuses of BMC and nearby off-site locations. They also ensured safe access at key points on all three campuses, according to a contingency plan BHS provided to the state Department of Public Health before the strike.

When The Eagle asked for a final cost via email, spokesman Michael Leary said that Berkshire Health Systems will only release the $4 million estimate.

"The $4 million figure is what we stated is the estimated cost that Berkshire Health Systems had to invest in the preparations and response to the strike," Leary said in an email. "None of that estimate was 'public money.'"

The Eagle was unable to obtain a breakdown of costs for private security and police presence from BHS.

"We will not line-item the cost, and the enhanced security is included in the overall cost," Leary said in an email.

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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