A group of nurses at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital voted to unionize this week, saying they want to create a better environment for themselves and their patients.

In a vote of 22-4, ambulatory nurses at the hospital decided to join the Massachusetts Nursing Association union. Prior to the vote, which was counted at the National Labor Relations Board office in Boston Tuesday, this particular group of nurses was the only one at the hospital that wasn’t part of a union.

“We’re all nurses that work for Martha’s Vineyard Hospital,” said Alicia Christensen, one of three nurses involved in the union effort who spoke to the Gazette. “And there were other nurses that were part of the union, our front desk is part of a union, all the way [down] and we were not....I think we were getting forgotten.”

About 30 nurses will join their colleagues at the Massachusetts Nursing Association. — Jeanna Shepard

About 30 nurses will be eligible for the union, according to the Massachusetts Nursing Association, and the group is waiting for the National Labor Relations Board to certify the vote. After the vote, the nurses can join their colleagues, who are currently in the middle of negotiating a new contract with the hospital. 

The nurses pushed for a union due to disparities in pay, a desire for a stronger voice and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’s place as part of the larger Mass General Brigham network.

“We realized that we wanted to express our opinion and we didn’t have a forum to do that,” said nurse Joyce Utz.

Ambulatory nurses handle a wide range of care, assisting people with mild symptoms, assessing walk-ins patients and overseeing the traveling nurses that help bolster the hospital’s ranks. 

Stephanie Poire, Joyce Utz and Robin Bagwell after the union vote. — Courtesy of Robin Bagwell

Nurse Robin Bagwell, one of the leaders of the union movement, said the ambulatory nurses originally worked outside of the hospital but were folded in when Partners Healthcare — the predecessor of Mass General Brigham — took over more than a decade ago. 

But they were never made part of the union at the time. 

“We are excited to be joining our colleagues, who are already MNA members, as we continue to provide the finest patient care in our community,” Ms. Bagwell said. 

The hospital acknowledged the vote in a brief statement to the Gazette Wednesday, saying it was part of a growing movement at hospitals across the country.

“We recognize that this election is part of a continuing national trend among healthcare providers seeking collective bargaining through union representation,” said Claire Seguin, the hospital’s chief nurse and vice president of operations. “We remain focused on providing safe, high-quality care to our community, and working collaboratively with our valued nurses.”

With the high cost of living and isolation of the Vineyard, hiring at the hospital has been difficult. In February 2023, the hospital had almost 220 job openings and a vacancy rate of about 23 per cent. But the nurses believed that the union representation could make it easier to find applicants, which could improve care overall. 

“We think this is very positive for our patients, for us and for the hospital,” said Ms. Utz.