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ST. VINCENT HOSPITAL NURSES: Nurses, hospital reach accord

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Three-year deal averts a strike at Saint Vincent

By Robert Weisman
Globe Staff / May 5, 2011

Unionized nurses and management at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester agreed to a new three-year contract yesterday, averting a strike that had been called for tomorrow.

Yesterday’s deal increases the pressure on Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where management and the nurses union plan to resume contract talks today in a last-ditch effort to prevent a strike there tomorrow. Talks at both hospitals, and at others across the state and nation, have centered on staffing levels.

The parties at Saint Vincent, who had been negotiating on and off for nearly a year and a half, reached a settlement after a six-hour bargaining session. Under the new contract, patient ratios will be reduced to four to five per nurse on the day and evening shifts, and no more than five on the night shift. Patient ratios are currently up to six on days and evenings and up to seven at nights.

“For the nurses here, this has been about safe patient care from the beginning,’’ said registered nurse Marlena J. Pellegrino, cochairwoman of the bargaining unit for the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “This is what we’ve been battling, fighting, and struggling for.’’

The last clause to be agreed on in the contract talks was language that compels Saint Vincent, which is closing eight or nine intensive care unit beds, to give ICU-level care to critically ill patients anywhere in the hospital.

Saint Vincent spokesman Dennis Irish said the rest of the contract was largely consistent with the last, best, and final offer the hospital, owned by Vanguard Health Systems Inc., made to the union last month. It includes a 1 percent raise effective retroactive to Jan. 1 and another 1 percent raise next Jan. 1.

“We’re right-sizing right across the across the hospital,’’ Irish said, “and we don’t need as many ICU beds.’’

Members of the nurses union are scheduled to take a ratification vote on the new contract next week. The contract would run from Jan. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2012.

Robert Weisman can be reached at