Increasing Number of Nurses Quitting Hospital System in Massachusetts

By Alice Giordano
Alice Giordano
Alice Giordano
Alice Giordano is a former news correspondent for The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and New England bureau of The New York Times.
December 8, 2021 Updated: December 8, 2021

As Massachusetts hospitals continue to hand out red slips to nurses for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine, members of the state’s largest nursing association gave testimony to lawmakers about escalating job pressures that have prompted an alarming number of nurses to quit. 

Morale is low, burnout is high, and many nurses are walking away from the bedside with no plan to return,”  Mary Havlicek Cornacchia, a member of the Massachusetts Nursing Association Board of Directors, told the Epoch Times.

Several MNA members testified at a three-hour hearing on Dec. 6, held by the Massachusetts Future of Work Commission—a legislative body that reviews the need for potential policy changes in the workplace.

Cornacchia, also an operating room nurse at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said if the state’s fast rising nursing shortage isn’t addressed soon, Massachusetts will have a critical shortage in health care providers.

In citing multiple surveys—including a recent one by the State of Nursing in Massachusetts—the MNA warned that 37 percent of nurses have reported plans to leave the field soon.

That is equivalent to one-third of the state’s nurse workforce,

The MNA’s warning came not only on a day when more nurses were fired around the state for not getting the COVID jab, but at the heels of a report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that the state is facing a critical ICU bed shortage—with 93 percent of all hospital beds reported as full.

News of the ICU shortage followed breaking news of the state’s first Omicron variant case—a 20-year-old, fully vaccinated woman who had recently traveled back to Massachusetts after being out of state for a brief period.

She did not require hospitalization and, so far, the CDC has said the severity of the Omicron variant remains unknown.

According to the department, COVID-related ICU hospitalizations in Massachusetts have risen 10 times since July.

Massachusetts is one of five states that reported an increase in cases over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the CDC.

The state, which saw an 8 percent jump in reported COVID-19 cases, also has the highest vaccine rate of 86 percent.

Hospitals like the UMass Memorial Health Care, the largest health care system in Central and Western New England, recently reported the rise in cases has forced them to use Emergency Room beds for ICU patients.

The result has created a domino effect, said its president and CEO Dr. Erick Dickson, with the shortage of intensive care beds causing a delay of care for walk-in emergencies.

“It’s a very, very stressful situation,” said Dickson.

Cornacchia said it’s no different at Tufts, where the hospital has recently sent patients to hospitals in Connecticut and Rhode Island because not only did it hit capacity, but every other hospital in the area was also full.

With triage care needs at an all time high, and staffing at an all time low, Cornacchia said it’s a scenario that has proven too overwhelming for nurses.

“This has been going on for a long time,” she said, “the pandemic just served to underscore issues we’ve been bringing forward for years.”

Massachusetts has a state law that requires a nurse be assigned to only one ICU patient. But, in reality, for some time it has been more than two critical patients per nurse due to hospitals cutting staffing to save money, said Cornnacchia.

The nursing body expects the ratio to only worsen, due to the increasing staffing shortage brought on by COVID-related conditions.

Her organization points to a recent survey by the RN Work Project, showing that 17.5 percent of new nurses left their position within a year of starting their first job last year, and 33 percent within two years.

In 2018, MNA led a charge to pass legislation known as Question 1, which would have mandated hospitals to maintain a higher nurse ratio, but Massachusetts voters shot it down.

Cornacchia said the state may need to reconsider a measure like Question 1.

“Our bottomline is patient safety and providing appropriate, and the best, and safest, care possible. The bottomline often for hospitals, and administration, is the dollar,” said Cornacchia.

“I understand you need to be fiscally responsible, but you’re looking at lives here.”

Hundreds of hospital nurses and other healthcare workers have been fired in Massachusetts for missing the deadline to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to published reports.

Last week, the Supreme Court denied a petition by a group of Massachusetts hospital workers for an emergency injunction against vaccine mandates.

Alice Giordano is a former news correspondent for The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and New England bureau of The New York Times.