On the picket line, nurses see strike as duty to patients, community

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For many on the picket line on Tuesday morning, months of negotiation and work came down to a sense of obligation to patients — a duty to make sure they can count on quality care.

"This is a cause we're sacrificing for," said Erin Ramsey, an emergency room nurse for the past nine years at Berkshire Medical Center. "This is bigger than me, individually."

Taking a break from marching up and down the sidewalk in front of the hospital, Lynn Ciccone said the strike as a last resort, and the nurses were left with no other choice.

"We just want to make things better for everybody,"said Ciccone, who has been a nurse for 18 years. "We love this hospital, and we want to see it be better, and be what it's supposed to be."

Mark Brodeur, a post-anesthesia care nurse, characterized the day's action as an effort for the county as whole.

"We deserve better," he said. "Berkshire County deserves better. Our patients and our community deserve it."

Although the Massachusetts Nurses Association has been involved in labor actions across the state, Berkshire Health Systems nurses are fighting for their community and its hospital, he said.

It was hard for Heather Biernacki, a nurse for 25 years, to tell her patients she would be striking on Tuesday instead of caring for them.

Biernacki is a third-generation nurse. Her 34-year-old daughter is a medical-surgical nurse at BMC.

"We go back long and deep with roots to [the] hospital," said Biernacki, a psychiatric nurse. "It feels so strange to be standing outside here."

Marie Geary, also a psychiatric nurse, said she hopes the strike can lead to better conditions for the next generation of nurses like Cassie Lipa, who was with her on the picket line.

"I look at young nurses like Cassie, and my hope is that what we're fighting for will be of benefit to them," she said.

Geary recalled Lipa becoming a nurse — she was previously a clinical therapist at BMC.

For Lipa, the strike was worth the cost, including the time without pay.

"If you believe in something, the sacrifice is worthy," she said. "It doesn't even feel like a sacrifice. I'm glad to be a part of this."

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


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