By Anna Meiler

BOSTON (CBS) – Nurses at Brigham and Women’s are accusing the hospital of putting elective surgeries ahead of urgent care, despite a state order.

Starting Wednesday, hospitals in Massachusetts must reduce certain non-essential, elective procedures by 50 percent. This guidance from the state comes as hospitals face critical staffing shortages and capacity challenges. Last month, the state ordered hospitals to reduce elective procedures by 30-percent to help alleviate the pressure on the health care system.

But nurses at Brigham and Women’s are accusing the hospital of not following the state’s rules.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association, a union representing 3,500 Brigham nurses, wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Health Monday, saying the hospital’s operating rooms are as busy as ever and they want the state to investigate.

“The MNA has serious concerns that BWH/MGB is not complying with this public health order and guidance on required bed capacity and potential need to reduce non-essential, non-urgent scheduled procedures,” the union wrote.

“BWH/MGB has failed to provide the MNA or any other entity with data to back up its claim that it is meeting the targets required by the order to maintain 15% staff bed availability or to reduce by 30% (and further to 50% as of December 15) non-essential, non-urgent scheduled procedures from the 2019 volume. Instead, our nurses report that non-essential, non-urgent scheduled procedures such as tummy tucks, removal of excess arm skin and sex reassignment surgeries continue unabated.”

“Patients experiencing emergencies, such as orthopedic trauma or brain injury, are seeing their cases delayed while non-urgent surgeries take up valuable time and staff resources,” the union said.

Nurse and MNA representative Trish Powers said the hospital is dealing with a nursing shortage as well. “They’re leaving the profession, people have strong PTSD, I know I have it myself,” said Powers.

“What we’re saying to the governor and DPH, you need to take action, what’s going on here is very, very wrong and very, very dangerous,” she continued.

A spokesperson for the Brigham told WBZ-TV Tuesday, “We are complying with the current DPH requirement and are planning to meet their updated mandate, which calls for a further reduction in non-essential, non-urgent scheduled procedures that require an inpatient stay as long as deferment will not cause long-term harm to patients.”

“Keeping our patients’ needs at the forefront of our decision-making, we are monitoring surgical cases and inpatient beds closely and deciding which cases can be safely rescheduled by using criteria that were developed with a multi-disciplinary group of experts, led by physicians and nurses,” said Lori Schroth, interim vice president of strategic communication at the hospital.

Schroth also noted that “tummy tucks and other procedures that do not require an inpatient bed do not fall under the state’s emergency order.”

Powers said, “They might not take up a bed overnight, but they are taking up so many resources and resources we don’t have right now.”

“An elderly woman broke her hip, she was in the emergency room for two days before she could come to our operating room and have her hip fixed, meanwhile there are elective cases going, facelifts, things like that,” Powers told WBZ-TV.

The hospital closely watches patient volume and makes decisions on a day-to-day basis, Schroth said.

Anna Meiler