Affinity RNs Call For Halt To Flawed Electronic Medical Records System Scheduled To Go Live Friday

Press Release | National Nurses United | June 18, 2013

Affinity Medical Center RNs in Massillon, Ohio are calling on hospital officials to delay the planned June 21 implementation of the Cerner electronic medical records (EMR) system, until the hospital bargains with the nurses and proceeds in a safe manner.

The direct-care RNs, represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) in Ohio, an affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU), say that nurses, the primary users of the complex system, have had insufficient training, which will put patients at risk. The implementation, which has been done without bargaining with NNOC, reflects yet another violation of federal labor law by Affinity, nurses say.

Nurses have documented their concerns in a detailed letter to hospital officials. Those concerns include woefully inadequate training, short staffing in the first days of the roll out, and the subsequent risk of harm to their patients.  The system, they say, has the potential of violating the Ohio Nursing Practice Act because it doesn’t permit RNs to communicate individualized, potentially life-saving information about their patients.

The letter, which RNs attempted to deliver to hospital officials on Friday, cites nationally recognized experts in health information technology who reinforce the RNs’ concerns. Most notably, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has concluded that the failure to include RNs in all steps of this transition is one of the most significant barriers to successful, safe implementation of electronic health records systems.

Hospital officials have continued to refuse to meet with nurses, and would not accept the letter. Without bargaining with the union or acknowledging the nurses’ concerns, the hospital added a few more trainings late Friday, but the RNs say that remains far from adequate.

Over the last few years, American healthcare corporations have invested heavily in information technology (IT) systems, which make up a multi-billion dollar market.

“RNs who actually use these systems day in and day out have found that the kind of care they can provide with this new technology is limited,” said NNOC Co-president Cokie Giles, RN. “The programs are often counterintuitive, cumbersome to use, and sometimes simply malfunction. Nurses are finding that the technology is taking time away from patients and fundamentally changing the nature of nursing.”

NNOC/NNU has successfully negotiated clauses in its contracts that allow RNs to play a greater role in reviewing and approving new technologies before they are introduced, and that the new technologies will not supersede RN professional judgment.

“I have been chosen as a ‘super-user,’ said Amy Pulley, an RN who works in the endoscopy unit of the hospital. “I’m not sure what makes me ‘super’ with the limited training for this complex system that I’ve received. I’m concerned that the manner in which this technology is being implemented may pose serious disruptions in patient care.”

Highlights of RN Concerns on the Implementation of the Cerner Electronic Medical Records System at Affinity Medical Center

Inadequate Staffing

  • Several units will be severely short staffed for the transition, despite the fact that the hospital has been planning on the “go live” date for several months.
  • The entire hospital and all portions of the system will go live at once, referred to as the “big bang” approach, which has a very low rate of success, rather than implementing it in trial, pilot stages.
  • They are utilizing the ‘super-user’ model which will pull nurses from direct-care so they can be available to teach, leaving several units without enough nurses to care for patients.
  • The hospital refuses to decrease the number of elective procedures or provide additional staff during the transition time.

Lack of training

  • Some nurses have received only one day of training.
  • Super-users have received no education or training in the system beyond what is provided to the other users.

Design flaws

  • Placement of the workstations are ill conceived—RNs must turn their back to patients while documenting.
  • During one education session, the system crashed because 17 users at one time overloaded it.

Failure to consult nurses

  • Several concerns were brought to management’s attention which they were unable to answer. One example— how will RNs override the system in the event of an emergency?

Affinity is one of five hospitals in California, Ohio, and West Virginia that are part of one of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chains, Tennessee-based Community Health Systems where affiliates of NNU are pursuing federal action for significant violations of RN rights.

The National Labor Relations Board held a five-day hearing in May in a complaint filed by the nurses and NNOC over Affinity’s refusal to bargain a first contract and retaliation against RNs for advocating for their patients and their colleagues. A decision by an NLRB administrative law judge is pending. CHS affiliated hospitals in West Virginia and California are facing similar sanction from federal officials. At one of the California hospitals last week, a U.S. District Court judge issued an injunction ordering the hospital to return to negotiations with the RNs.

CHS is the second largest for-profit hospital chain in the United States, and one of the wealthiest. Over the past five years, CHS reported over $1.5 billion in profits to the Securies Exchange Commission.