Nov. 19 2015 04:36 PM

Nurses file unfair labor practice charge against Sparrow Hospital

THURSDAY, Nov. 19 —The Michigan Nurses Association announced today it has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Sparrow Hospital for allegedly forbidding its members to speak about the decision to close its substance abuse intake unit.

“Nurses have the right and the responsibility to speak up on behalf of their patients and their practice,” said Jeff Breslin, president of the Professional Employee Council of Sparrow Hospital. “This includes discussing the ramifications of the inpatient substance abuse unit closure.”

The association’s statement said that Sparrow managers told nurses Friday not to speak to the media or post on social media about the closure. The association “ filed the charge because Sparrow management threatened registered nurses with discipline or termination for activities that, in reality, are protected by law,” the statement said.

Sparrow spokesman John Foren said the hospital had no comment on the unfair labor complaint, which was filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

Sparrow announced this week it is closing the intake unit at the St. Lawrence campus and incorporating it with the acute care units on the main campus on Michigan Avenue.

Sparrow issued a statement today on the closure:

“Acute substance abuse detoxification is a short-term medical condition that is best provided over two to three days in an inpatient hospital setting.

“Sparrow has been providing inpatient medical detoxification services in two locations for many years. Sparrow has now decided to care for these Patients in one location.

“Sparrow Hospital at its Michigan Avenue location already has provided evidence-based medical detoxification services to more than 1,300 Patients in 2015. Sparrow will continue to provide outpatient substance abuse and addiction treatment in the community.”

But Breslin said the closing will have the opposite effect.

“This closure means that Sparrow will no longer have an inpatient unit dedicated to substance abuse treatment. Patients who have substance abuse issues will no longer feel safe and secure in an environment that is conducive to their recovery,” Breslin said. “The hospital should be encouraging open community discussion about the changes that they are making, rather than threatening nurses for raising legitimate safety concerns.”

The association also said:

“Once the St. Lawrence substance abuse unit closes, the nearest inpatient unit specializing in medical detox treatment will be in Brighton. Registered nurses are concerned that placing patients detoxing from heroin, alcohol or other substances next to patients who are in for surgery or other medical treatment will reduce the overall quality of care.

“There are so many unanswered questions that need to be addressed before this change takes place. Will patients who need addiction treatment be”

The association also issued an “open letter” written by a doctor who it said had once worked in the unit.

The letter, by Norman S. Miller, says:

“For many years, Sparrow provided life-saving treatment to the Mid-Michigan Community dedicated to Drug and Alcohol Disorders.

“Countless lives are positively and definitely affected by having an inpatient unit at Sparrow/St Lawrence Hospital in Lansing, Michigan. The decision to close the unit was made abruptly and without community input.

“I served as a Medical Doctor for thousands of patients seeking detoxification and recovery from addictive diseases in the Addiction Unit. I also established education and training for medical students and residents from Michigan State University College of Medicine on the Addiction Unit.

“Drug and Alcohol Addictions are treatable diseases of mind, body, and spirit. The Detoxification Unit ensures a hospital setting for safe and effective discontinuing of addicting drugs and alcohol, treatment I write in support of continuing the Sparrow/St Lawrence Addiction Detoxification Unit.

"We need to continue the Sparrow/St. Lawrence Inpatient Detoxification Unit to treat potentially fatal addiction to prescription narcotic medications, heroin, alcohol, nicotine, nicotine and other drugs.

"100,000 die annually from alcohol, 500,000 from nicotine, 16,000 from narcotics, 6,000 from heroin. Sparrow/St Lawrence Addiction Unit reduces our community’s risks to these poor outcomes.

"I and others are fearful for thousands in our community who will be deprived of addiction treatment services equal in effectiveness to treatments for other medical and surgical conditions.

"Sparrow has partnered with Pine Rest Behavioral Management to run addiction services. I see Pine Rest plans to close the Sparrow/St Lawrence Addiction Units as short sighted and an inadequate response to our community needs.

"In addition, Pine Rest has an inherent conflict of interest because it has itself has similar inpatient addiction detoxification services in nearby Grand Rapids. And closure of the Lansing program will enhance its own Programs in Grand Rapids. However, Grand Rapids is not geographically or logistically suitable to meet our community needs.

"We are all affected by addictive diseases. I strongly urge all of you to insist on and support continuation of Sparrow/St Lawrence Addiction Detoxification and Treatment Services."