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Jun 24, 2016 6:26 PM

Boston nurses strike affects New Hampshire patients, disrupts scheduled procedures

HOOKSETT — An impending nurses strike at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston will reduce the hospital's operations by 40 percent, and planned surgeries have been postponed as a result.

This is taking a tough toll on patients, including New Hampshire residents like Roseann Ranlett, who was looking forward to ending her 15-month battle with breast cancer with reconstructive surgery.

However, on Wednesday afternoon - less than two days before her scheduled surgery - Ranlett, of Hooksett, received a phone call that it was cancelled due to the impending strike.

“Let me tell you, it broke my heart,” Ranlett told NH1 on the day she should’ve been in surgery. “There’s no other way to say it. Just...that call was devastating.”

The Massachusetts Nurses Association is a branch of a national union National Nurses United. Union officials coordinated simultaneous strikes in multiple states to fight what they say is the “corporatization” of the health care industry, saying it’s reducing pay and benefits.

The 3,300 nurses at Brigham and Women’s organized to stage a one-day strike, but the hospital will lock out workers next Monday through Friday to “stabilize high quality care to [their] patients” during the strike.

“I’m not saying nurses don’t deserve their raises, I’m just saying in a field like that, where they say the patients come first, they’re really hurting the patients by making this decision,” Ranlett said.

She first scheduled the reconstruction surgery in January and has been preparing physically, mentally and financially ever since. Ranlett is a hairdresser in Manchester and had to stop working to plan around the surgery, among many other plans she had to arrange to make the surgery work.

“There were all little minor details that lead up to this,” she said. “I rearranged my whole life for this. It’s a lot to deal with knowing that the decision to strike for one day can have this much effect on people.”

More than that, she’s been waiting for months to get a part of her womanhood back that’s been missing.

“I don’t feel feminine, and I’m not doing this for anybody but myself,” she said. “This is, to me, the end of this long journey of the breast cancer and making me whole again.”

The surgery is a difficult one that takes at least 12 hours to complete. Ranlett said she would’ve spent one day in the ICU afterwards and another six or seven days in the hospital.

“You have to get yourself in the right frame of mind, knowing that you’re going to be under anesthesia for so long and that the recovery is not pretty,” she said. “It takes a lot, mentally, to prepare for that.”

When she first got the call, Ranlett worried she might have to wait entire year to get the reconstruction. Though she was upset, she appreciated how compassionate her surgeon was about the situation.

“You could tell he was just as hurt for me to have to cancel the surgery,” she said. “He’s always been that way, and when you’re going through something like that, it’s so nice to have someone who truly cares about you.”

However, her surgeon, Dr. Matthew Carty, didn’t have a choice, at least at first. The hospital has planned to reduce its operations by 40 percent next week and has hired 700 temporary nurses for the 3,300 expected to strike.

During a press conference on Friday, the hospital said it was allocating resources on a need basis.

“We didn’t reduce all operating activity equally,” said Dr. Ron Walls, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at the hospital. “We’re trying to make sure we focus on patients who have more urgent need for operations. In the course of downsizing, we also have to be sure that we’re available to meet the needs of the community.”

That didn’t stop Dr. Carty from trying. Ranlett said he was petitioning the hospital to reschedule the surgery for Saturday, or for the July 4th holiday.

Shortly after her interview with NH1, Ranlett got the call that his efforts were successful, and her surgery would happen as planned the next day. However, she worried about other patients who weren’t so lucky.

“I don’t know how many people are affected, but I know how it affected my life,” she said. “It was devastating, and now I’m just so relieved. I’m so ready for this to be over.”

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