The following is a press release from the Massachusetts Nurses Association submitted to SOURCE media
WORCESTER – On Monday, while other families in Massachusetts will be taking time to get away with their families during school vacation week, most of the St. Vincent Hospital nurses will be reporting to the picket line, beginning their seventh week on strike in their ongoing struggle to convince Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare to address a growing patient safety crisis at the Worcester-based facility.
As the strike continues, the nurses’ for-profit owner is projected to spend more than $39 million* to prolong the strike, inclusive of costs for hundreds of replacement nurses paid twice as much as the regular staff, more than $30,000 a day for police details, along with other costs associated with avoiding meeting the nurses demands for better staffing and other patient safety measures.
As the nurses approach their 43rd day on the strike line outside the hospital, they continue to receive alarming reports of substandard care being delivered by hundreds of replacement nurses, flown in from all over the country to deliver care in an unfamiliar hospital and with no connection to the community. One staffer inside the hospital reported more than 10 patient falls on one floor alone in the last two weeks. One of the nurses from inside the hospital was shocked by the chaos they witnessed, and by the poor quality of care being delivered by the replacements; and described seeing an elderly patient being left alone in restraints, naked, while a group of replacement nurses huddled in the break room playing with their phones. The Association received a report by a former patient who was discharged without instructions, with an IV needle still left in his arm.
“We are extremely shocked and distressed by the many stories we are hearing from inside our hospital as Tenet is spending millions of dollars to fund and promote this dangerous level of care to our patients and community,” said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, longtime nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “We want to return to our patients and our patients want us back, but to accomplish this, we need sincere assurances from Tenet that we will have the improved staffing to provide the high quality care and dignity our patients and this Community expect and deserve.”
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. Adding insult to injury, the same day nurses voted to authorize the strike, Tenet announced annual profits of more than $400 million.
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 four-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 expert 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.
*The estimate of $34 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 seven 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.