News & Events

St. Vincent RNs picket on Valentine’s Day to ensure safe staffing, secure future

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
February/March 2011 Edition

Holding signs that read, “Vanguard has no heart for safe staffing,” and “Nursing at St. Vincent Hospital is no box of chocolates,” several hundred RNs and their allies celebrated Valentine’s Day on the picket line in an effort to pressure their for-profit owner to agree to contractually mandated improvements in RN staffing levels at the 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 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 we are out here today,” said Marlena Pellegrino, a medical surgical RN at St. Vincent and chair of her bargaining unit. “While nurses are at the heart of patient care, our employer has shown us no love and has failed to give us the resources we need in order to provide patients with the quality care they 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 nurse’s care. In other words, 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 percent 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 Massachusetts. They also are trying to fight off Vanguard’s attempt to reduce their health insurance benefit. Specifically, the nurses are attempting to convince the hospital to participate in the recently created Nurses Pension Fund, a multi-employer 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 over the past 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 are outraged by Vanguard’s refusal to provide our patients with the care they 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.”