News & Events

St. Vincent Hospital Nurses Hold St. Valentine’s Day Picket To Ensure Safe Staffing and a Secure Future


For Immediate Release

Contact: David Schildmeier 781-249-0430

Date: Feb. 14, 2011

St. Vincent Hospital Nurses Hold St. Valentine’s Day Picket To Ensure Safe Staffing and a Secure Future

Nurses Protest For-Profit Owner’s “Lack of Heart” for Safe Patient Care, Seek Improvements in RN-to-Patient Ratios to Stem Growing Patient Care Crisis at the Facility

WORCESTER, MA — Holding signs that read “Vanguard has no heart for safe staffing,” “safe staffing saves lives,” and “nursing at St. Vincent Hospital is no box of chocolates,” several hundred RNs and their supporters celebrated Valentine’s Day on the picket line today, in an effort to pressure their for-profit owner to agree to contractually mandated improvements in RN staffing levels at this Worcester-based medical center.

For over a year, the 740 nurses of St. Vincent Hospital have been attempting to negotiate a new contract with Vanguard Health Care. These nurses, who voted to go out on strike over poor staffing conditions in 2007, are once again locked in a protracted dispute over deplorable working conditions and a growing crisis in the quality and safety of patient care.

“It is with the utmost concern for the safety of our patients that I, along with my fellow nurses of St. Vincent Hospital, are out here today,” said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, a medical surgical nurse at St. Vincent and chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association local bargaining unit, “While nurses are at the heart of patient care, our employer has shown no love for its nurses, nor have they demonstrated that they have the heart to provide what nurses need in order to provide the care our patients deserve.”

In 2009, the Department of Public Health released a report showing that St. Vincent Hospital had more serious medical errors and patient care mistakes than any hospital in the state. Last year nurses filed more than 800 official reports of unsafe conditions at the facility (an average of more than two a day). To address this crisis, the nurses are seeking contract language to guarantee safer staffing levels in the hospital.

“I am ashamed of these results, and I can tell you without equivocation that our nurses and patients are being placed in jeopardy in this hospital every day and on every shift. It is only because of the true grit of our nurses that there haven’t been more serious incidents at this hospital,” Pellegrino said.

The MNA pointed to a significant body of research demonstrating the link between poor staffing and the use of forced overtime to a variety of poor patient outcomes and an increase in preventable patient deaths in the nation’s hospitals. For example, one study found that every patient above four assigned to a registered nurse resulted in a 7 percent increase in the risk of death for all patients under that nurses care. So when a St. Vincent nurse complains about having seven patients at one time, the science demonstrates that all of those patients are at a 21% greater risk of death. Additionally these same studies demonstrate that when nurses have fewer patients, there are significantly fewer complications, patient satisfaction increases and nurse retention improves, with no negative impact on the hospitals’ financial performance.

The nurses are also seeking an improved pension benefit, as Vanguard’s retirement benefit is the worst of all employers in central Mass, and are fighting off an attempt by Vanguard to dramatically reduce the nurses’ health insurance benefit. Specifically the nurses are attempting to convince the hospital to participate in the recently created Nurses Pension Fund, a multiemployer defined benefit pension plan the MNA has established to provide retirement security to nurses, while providing hospitals with a proven tool for nurse recruitment and retention.

Vanguard is a multi-billion dollar corporation that has posted nearly $50 million in profits at St. Vincent Hospital in the last two years. Despite this, they are skimping on patient care resources, refusing to provide adequate staffing and applying an assembly line mentality to the delivery of patient care, while providing their caregivers with below market wage and benefits. This combination is endangering patients, safe nursing practice, and the ability to recruit and retain registered nurses.

“We nurses are outraged by Vanguard’s refusal to provide our patients with the care you deserve,” Pellegrino said. “We are out here today to seek public support for our cause. Help us help you by joining our effort to convince Vanguard to put their love for patients ahead of their love for profits.”

The nurses began negotiating a new contract with Vanguard management in December of 2009 and a total of 30 negotiating sessions have been held to date. The current contract expired on Dec. 31, 2009 and it has been extended by agreement of both parties until Feb. 16, 2011, which is the date of the next negotiating session.