Nearly two dozen nurses opt to retire from financially ailing Health Alliance
Twenty-one Cambridge Hospital and health department nurses will retire next month, a spokesman said this week, far fewer than the more than 100 who were eligible. Cambridge Health Alliance will reduce retirement health care benefits for nurses who leave after Aug. 6, which had led to concerns that many might retire before the deadline.
A total of 379 nurses at Cambridge Hospital and the city Public Health Department faced the cut in retirement benefits; the 21 who are retiring amount to 5.5 percent of the total, Alliance spokesman David Cecere said. Asked how the system will deal with the loss of the nurses, Cecere said: “We’re adjusting our staffing plans accordingly,” but did not give any details.
Currently retired nurses pay 10 percent of the cost of their health insurance premiums. If they retire after Aug. 6 they will pay 50 percent. The change will reduce the financial obligations of the Alliance, which is losing millions of dollars.
In addition to Cambridge Hospital, the Alliance includes Somerville Hospital, Whidden Memorial Hospital in Everett and 15 primary care offices. The retiree health insurance issue affects only nurses in the Massachusetts Nurses Association Cambridge Hospital bargaining unit, which also covers the city health department.
The change came after a four-year legal battle between the Association and the Alliance, which is financially struggling and expects to lose $19.8 million in the coming fiscal year after a loss of about $28 million this fiscal year. The Cambridge Hospital nurses were the only unionized employees who still paid 10 percent of retiree health insurance premiums; other unions had agreed to the 50-50 split.
A small number of Cambridge Hospital nurses also faced lower pensions if they left in time to avoid paying more for retiree health insurance. Annual pension increases are credited on an employee’s birthday, so nurses whose birthdays fell after Aug. 6 would lose out on pension increases.
Some of those nurses asked Alliance trustees to relax the deadline for them in a rare public comment session at a trustees meeting May 21; the trustees did not act. Cambridge city councillors voted June 16 to “go on record opposing the current plan to force nurses to retire in August of this year” and to ask the Alliance to reconsider. A nurse handed a copy of the resolution to an aide at the trustees’ meeting June 25; it was not discussed in the public portion of the meeting.
Cecere confirmed that the Alliance has not changed the deadline for any nurses.