WORCESTER, Mass., April 25, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The nurses of St. Vincent Hospital and Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare will resume negotiations on Monday, April 26 at 3 p.m., the first round of negotiations since the nurses launched their strike on March 8 for a new contract that the nurses believe must include needed staffing improvements to ensure safer care for all the patients at the facility to end the strike.
A federal mediator scheduled the talks on Friday, after discussions with both parties, with Tenet agreeing to present a long-awaited proposal that the nurses hope can move the process forward to end the strike.
"With the resolve we have gained over the last seven weeks on strike, we have always been willing to get back to the table in hopes of settling a contract that puts the safety and dignity of our patients first," said Marlena Pellegrino, longtime nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining with the Massachusetts Nurses Association. "We are hopeful that the Hospital will come to the table in earnest with a serious proposal that will adequately address the needs of all of our patients and honor the integrity of the negotiating process. If this is their true intent, we will negotiate as hard and long as it takes to reach an agreement and get back where we have always belonged – at the bedside caring for our patients and the community we have served with pride for so many years."
As 800 nurses enter their eighth week on strike, Tenet recently reported more than $97 million in profits and revenues in excess of $4.7 billion for the first quarter of the year, following the posting of $400 million in profits for 2020. To date, Tenet is projected to have invested more than $45 million* to prolong the St. Vincent nurses' strike – all to avoid providing the safer patient care conditions the nurses are seeking.
The strike began on March 8, after Tenet had refused to negotiate with the nurses over improvements the nurses are seeking to improve unsafe patient care conditions in the hospital. The decision followed earnest and painstaking efforts over the last two years by the nurses to convince Tenet to improve the patient care conditions at the facility, poor conditions that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The nurses' strike and their stand for safer patient care has galvanized support from a variety of public officials, labor, faith-based organizations and community advocates, including the entire Worcester City Council, the Worcester state legislative delegation, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Edward Markey Congressman Jim McGovern and Attorney General Maura Healy who have all visited the nurses strike line. Senators Warren, Markey and Congressman McGovern sent their own letter to Tenet's CEO in Dallas urging Tenet to negotiate with the nurses to address the nurses' concerns over needed staffing improvements to ensure safe care.
In the last year alone, nurses have filed more than 600 official "unsafe staffing" reports (more than 110 such reports have been filed since January 1, 2021) in which nurses informed management in real time that patient care conditions jeopardized the safety of their patients. The nurses also report their patients in Worcester have experienced an increase in patient falls, an increase in patients suffering from preventable bed sores, potentially dangerous delays in patients receiving needed medications and other treatments – all due to lack of appropriate staffing, excessive patient assignments, and cuts to valuable support staff.
Staffing Improvements Sought by the Nurses
As evidenced by its own report of massive profits, Tenet can well afford the additional positions necessary to implement the MNA staffing proposal that could end this strike. The money being spent to prolong the strike could easily address the proposed staffing improvements the nurses are seeking, which are staffing standards on a par with other hospitals in Worcester and across the state, including:
Improvements to the current staffing guidelines to ensure all nurses have safe patient assignments and support staff to ensure safe patient care. Throughout the hospital Tenet has forced nurses to consistently care for too many patients while it has cut essential support staff positions. The nurses' staffing proposal calls for improved limits on the number of patients nurses are assigned on many units, including a resource nurse (to coordinate care on the unit and provide support with complex cases) and a commitment to provide support staff positions across all units. A critical aspect of the staffing proposal is a safer patient assignment on the medical surgical floors, which is consistent with the standard of care provided at UMass Memorial Medical Center and a number of other hospitals in the state.
Creation of a pool of nurses who are experts in caring for critically ill patients, which is essential to support nurses in the emergency department who in addition to taking care of five or six patients, are also expected to care for patients in need of ICU level care, who are waiting for a bed to open in the ICU. ICU and trauma patients must have a nurse dedicated to no more than one or two patients, which is the safe standard of care for these patients.
The addition of what are called "STAT and Rapid Response" nurses, which are nurses who would be available to respond to urgent and critical situations when a patient is suffering a code or other serious decline in their condition on the medical/surgical floors. When needed these nurses assist in stabilizing and caring for the patient until they can be transferred to the ICU. They are especially important to support newly graduated nurses, who most often work on the off shift where there are often fewer experienced nurses working. Again, UMass Memorial Medical Center provides this level of support to its nurses.
For a more detailed review of the staffing crisis, efforts by nurses to convince Tenet to address the crisis, as well as proposals nurses are seeking to improve patient care, click here to view a previous press release on the matter.
*The estimate of $45 million is based on Tenet's public disclosure at the outset of the strike that the cost of replacement nurses was $5.4 million for the first week multiplied by the 8 weeks of the strike, and also including the city's confirmed weekly cost for police details of $210,000 multiplied by six weeks. This figure does not include the hospital's cost for its own expanded internal security force, the installation of special high tech camera systems outside the hospital entrances, and the fleet of buses and vans the hospital is using to transport the strike replacement nurses to and from the facility throughout the day every day of the strike. The MNA last week sent a letter to Tenet CEO Carolyn Jackson, requesting a copy of the contracts for the strike replacement nurses so that the nurses, and the public have a full picture of the resources Tenet is using to prolong this strike.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.