Health Care

Butler Hospital workers picket over ARPA funds, staffing levels

“We want the same dignity and respect from management that we’re expected to give to our patients. We want them to sit down and talk to us about long-term, sustainable solutions for what’s happening at our hospital,” said said Butler Hospital registered nurse Amy Smith, who has worked at Butler for 23 years.

Published on November 11, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

On Thursday frontline staff at Care New England (CNE)’s Butler Hospital held an informational picket outside their facility to call for immediate intervention in Rhode Island’s ongoing mental health care emergency. Like their fellow SEIU 1199NE members at Women and Infants Hospital, caregivers have been calling on CNE for months to engage in dialogue about investment of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds awarded in the 2022 state budget, which provides $8 million for expanding access to mental health beds and over $1 million to stabilize the workforce at Butler Hospital, in addition to the $45 million earmarked for Rhode Island’s hospital system, 80% of which has been directed to be used directly on frontline staff for workforce stabilization investments.

See: Caregivers at Women & Infants picket in response to staffing and funding concerns

“We worked really hard to make sure Butler got funding in the state budget to address the staffing crisis. Instead of working with us to come up with long-term solutions, management throws money away on band-aids that don’t address the root causes of our staffing shortages,” said Butler Hospital registered nurse Amy Smith, who has worked at Butler for 23 years. “We want the same dignity and respect from management that we’re expected to give to our patients. We want them to sit down and talk to us about long-term, sustainable solutions for what’s happening at our hospital.”

Amy Smith

Butler Hospital is the leading mental health facility in the region, providing a wide array of both inpatient and outpatient mental, behavioral health and substance abuse services to adolescent, adult and geriatric populations that can necessitate weeks of in-patient stays. But because of ongoing short staffing, recently acknowledged chronic underfunding and a pandemic-related spike in demand, Butler hospital is experiencing a severe capacity crisis. 

According to the union, the pandemic has had profound and far-reaching effects on Americans’ mental health. Depression among adults in the United States tripled in early 2020 — and worsened into 2021, impacting 1 in every 3 Americans. Similarly, substance abuse and overdose deaths are also spiking; more Rhode Islanders died of accidental drug overdoses in 2021 than any other year on record. And while demands surges, staffing and available beds lag.  

And according to a recent study by the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, 67% of mental health care providers who cannot accept new patients cite lack of resources as the cause. Patients requiring mental health and substance abuse services can wait hours or even days until a bed opens up. In 2020, an estimated 33% of Rhode Island children ages three to 17 who needed mental health treatment had difficulty obtaining care. At the same time, overburdened staff are leaving for less stressful, higher-paid positions.

Butler staff is demanding CNE sit down with frontline caregivers and discuss how best to invest ARPA funds in critical workforce stabilization measures including competitive wage increases, safer staffing levels, free or reduced training and career development. Butler Hospital employs approximately 900 employees, 650 of whom are represented by SEIU 1199NE.

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