News & Events

St. Vincent Hospital Nurses Schedule Strike Authorization Vote for April 8 As Contract Talks Stall Over RN Staffing and Patient Care Concerns

WORCESTER – After more than 16 months of negotiations, including yet another session held yesterday with a Federal mediator, the registered nurses of St. Vincent Hospital have called for a vote by the membership on Friday, April 8, 2011 to authorize a one-day strike. Talks continue to stall over hospital management’s refusal to improve unsafe patient care conditions at the hospital, which are compromising the quality of care patients are receiving at this major medical center.

These 740 St. Vincent nurses, who are locked in a protracted dispute with Vanguard Health Care, the for-profit owner of the hospital, are working under the worst RN staffing levels in the city. In the last 16 months nurses have filed more than 1,000 official reports of unsafe conditions at the facility (an average of more than two a day). To address the crisis, the nurses are seeking contract language to guarantee safer staffing levels in the hospital.

“The nurses of St. Vincent Hospital simply cannot deliver safe patient care under the current staffing conditions at this hospital, in fact, it is not exaggeration to say that every day, on every shift, patients at this hospital are being placed in jeopardy because their nurses have too many patients to care for at one time,” said Marlena Pellegrino. “We have been negotiating with the hospital for months over these issues, yet they still refuse to adequately address our concerns. While we don’t want to strike, we cannot allow the safety of our patients to continue to be compromised.”

The strike authorization vote has been scheduled to take place throughout the day and into the evening on Friday, April 8. Nurses will cast their vote by secret ballot at the MNA Region 2 Headquarters, which is located at 365 Shrewsbury St. in Worcester. Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The vote does not mean the nurses will strike immediately. It gives the negotiating committee the authorization to call a one-day strike if and when they feel it is necessary. Once the committee issues its official notice to strike, the hospital will then have 10 days before the nurses will go out on strike.

Talks on April 4 ended without the hospital making any movement to respond to the nurses’ staffing proposal. Vanguard management’s initial response more than two months ago was a proposal that would add more nurses to a few floors, while also calling for the closure of nine beds in the intensive care unit, increase patient assignments for nurses on a floor caring for patients recovering from open-heart surgery and eliminate a team of patient support nurses who assist other nurses with complex cases. The hospital’s plan will actually make the conditions for nurses and patients more dangerous. The nurses have been waiting for a concrete reply on the issue of staffing from the hospital for more than a month, but the hospital has yet to make any improvements to their original staffing proposal. In fact, at yesterday’s session, they left the nurses’ negotiating team waiting all day, until finally sending the federal mediator into the room at the end of the session with an unspecified “statement of intent” to hire more nurses.

“It is clear that management continues to posture in these negotiations and has no real intent at this time to work with us to address our very serious concerns,” Pellegrino explained. “They won’t even come into the room to work on the issue in good faith, which is why we have decided that it is time to consider a one-day strike as we cannot afford to allow these talks to drag on while our patients continue to suffer every day.”

The nurses’ concerns about the staffing conditions at the hospital are supported by a significant body of research demonstrating the link between poor staffing and a variety of poor patient outcomes and an increase in preventable patient deaths in the nation’s hospitals. In fact, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, published last month shows that when hospital floors or units are understaffed and where there is a high turnover of patients on a unit each day (as is the case on every unit at St. Vincent Hospital), the risk of patient death increases significantly.

Nurses are outraged that their patients are forced to suffer every day while Vanguard, the multi-billion dollar for profit owner of the hospital, has reaped more than $50 million in profits over the last two years at St. Vincent Hospital alone, and just recently spent more than a billion dollars to purchase hospitals in other parts of the country. “Vanguard can well afford to provide the safe care the patients in this community deserve,” Pellegrino said. The nurses began negotiating a new contract with Vanguard management in December of 2009 and a total of 36 negotiating sessions have been held to date. The current contract expired on Dec. 31, 2009 and has been extended by mutual agreement until April 19. The parties are scheduled to meet next on April 13.

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Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest professional health care organization and 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. The MNA is also a founding member of National Nurses United, the largest national nurses union in the United States with more than 150,000 members from coast to coast.