News & Events

St. V’s nurses to strike

read Telegram & Gazette article here

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

St. Vincent Hospital nurses at a picket on Valentine’s Day. (T&G Staff File Photo/CHRISTINE PETERSON)


WORCESTER — Nurses at St. Vincent Hospital yesterday served notice on the hospital that they will go on a one-day strike on May 6.

The announcement came at the end of a seven-hour bargaining session during which St. Vincent owner Vanguard Health Systems gave the 740 nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association its last, best and final offer.

Nurses are seeking an improved ratio of nurses to patients in a contract to succeed the one that was to expire in December 2009, while the hospital refuses fixed ratios and cites the need to contain costs.

The hospital’s offer yesterday was “not nearly acceptable — not close,” said David Schildmeier, MNA spokesman.

“We can’t get the hospital to understand that we need safe nurse-patient ratios,” said Marlena Pellegrino, co-chairman of MNA’s St. Vincent Hospital bargaining unit.

She said that St. Vincent has the lowest nurse-patient ratio in the city, and one of the lowest in the state.

While not disputing the Worcester figure, Dennis L. Irish, St. Vincent spokesman, said that St. Vincent is already staffing up so it will have a better nurse-patient ratio than 75 percent of Massachusetts hospitals.

He accused the MNA and its national organization, National Nurses United, of coordinating strikes. Yesterday, MNA also announced a one-day strike at Tufts New England Medical Center on May 6, and said NNU has announced similar actions in Maine and California. “While claiming that they are (striking) in order to advance ‘safe staffing now,’ the MNA’s decision to have our nurses abandon their patients and force the hospital to engage replacement nurses illustrates the hypocrisy of their assertion,” Mr. Irish said. Instead, they are pursuing a national nurses’ union agenda of “mandatory, arbitrary nurse staffing ratios.”

Scheduling four strikes over two days, he said, “is callously coordinating a strike intended to inhibit our ability to secure replacement nurses.” In order to compete, St. Vincent had to guarantee the replacement nurses a minimum of five days’ work, instead of four, meaning the striking nurses will not be able to return to work for five days, he said.

That would cost the hospital and those who pay for medical care $5 million instead of $4 million, he said. The hospital estimates it will need to hire enough nurses to cover 70 percent of normal hospital occupancy, he said.

The hospital is preparing to accommodate the one-day strike by immediately not accepting any more admissions to its 15-bed inpatient psychiatry unit and will transfer any patients who are there to close the unit May 6, Mr. Irish said.

It also will not permit elective surgery May 6, rescheduling any now set for that day.

Ms. Pellegrino said each nurse has six or seven medical-surgical patients or five telemetry (cardiac) patients. She said she believes that a UMass-Memorial nurse has four to five medical-surgical patients or four telemetry patients.

She said that St. Vincent yesterday said it would reduce that to five medical-surgical patients per nurse. But it made an unacceptable contingency: it also would close eight or nine intensive care unit beds; eliminate a team of 16 nurses who support other nurses on the day and evening shifts; and increase the number of patients per nurse in a special cardiac step-down unit. All of those would adversely affect patients and remaining nurses, she said.

Mr. Irish replied that the hospital has already begun implementing a new staffing plan, despite MNA opposition, that will result in more net nursing hours and more full-time equivalent nurses.

Ms. Pellegrino said the staffing pattern has resulted in nurses filing more than 1,000 reports of unsafe staffing in the past 16 months.

“As a St. Vincent nurse, we know that we need to care for our patients in a certain way with the utmost skill and dignity that we have, and we’re not allowed to do that when we’re forced to care for too many patients at one time,” she said.

Mr. Irish said, “the hospital has been recognized as one of the top 100 hospitals in the nation for quality, safety, patient satisfaction and efficiency by Thomson Reuters,” an industry information organization.

Nurses at St. Vincent Hospital start at $27.49 per hour and make $53.70 per hour after 18 years, Mr. Schildmeier said. He said he expects agreement can be reached easily on pay if agreement is reached on staffing ratios.

Ms. Pellegrino said that the average nurse works 24 to 32 hours per week, while preferring to work full-time, but the hospital tells them not to come in. Mr. Irish denied that.