News & Events

Health priorities outlined: St. Vincent nurses worried about staffing

Marie Ritacco speaks on behalf of St. Vincent Hospital nurses today at a Department of Public Health meeting at the hospital. (T&G Staff/CHRISTINE PETERSON)


WORCESTER — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health — facing a $25 million cut in funding next year that’s expected to eviscerate key programs — has drawn up a short list of priorities for the next four years.

DPH officials said they plan to concentrate on:

  • Promoting wellness programs
  • Fighting to cut the rate of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and asthma that severely afflict Massachusetts residents.
  • Reducing the disparity in health woes between whites and racial minority groups.
  • Working to bolster local public health authorities through regionalization and other programs.
  • Continuing to smoothly implement state health care reforms.

Since March 4, MDPH Commissioner John Auerbach has been holding meetings across the Bay State to explain and gather input and comment on the agency’s blueprint.

This afternoon, the commissioner, joined by some of his senior staff, met with area medical and health professionals, municipal public health officials, social service providers and others during a two-hour meeting at St. Vincent Hospital.

Another “dialogue” was held earlier in the day at the Jacob Edwards Library in Southbridge.

Area health care providers told the commissioner that, given the economic climate, they understood his predicament but urged caution when making cuts that would affect their particular constituencies.

Appeals were made on behalf of programs aimed at bettering dental care, decreasing youth violence and providing vaccinations, among others.

During the meeting, some St. Vincent Hospital nurses — in the midst of contentious contract negotiations with Vanguard Health Systems Inc, the parent company of the medical center — expressed concerns about staffing levels.

Marie Ritacco, a St. Vincent Hospital nurse who serves on the board of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents the nurses, charged that the staffing levels proposed by Vanguard threaten the safety of patients.

Mr. Auerbach said he “appreciated” Ms. Ritacco’s comments and said that all in the conference room are seriously concerned about the quality of health care.

After the meeting, Dennis L. Irish, a spokesman for St. Vincent, said he was disappointed that the nurses would raise bargaining issues at a forum held to discuss the state’s overall health needs.

The two sides have been negotiating since November 2009 and another federally mediated meeting is scheduled next week.

View Worcester Telegram Article here