As the St. Vincent nurses strike approaches the seven month mark, local nurses and leaders representing more than 3,500 nurses working in hospitals throughout the central Mass. region want the public to know that the entire nursing community stands behind the St. Vincent hospital nurses and their strike for safer patient care, and that they, like a growing number of public officials, hold Tenet Healthcare solely accountable for the length of the strike and for Tenet’s callous decision to close beds and services, which is having a devastating impact on the region’s ability to respond to the most recent surge in the pandemic caused by the Delta variant.
While the nurses are being kept out on the street by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare and Tenet has closed beds and services needed by the community, many of the nurses have found or are seeking per diem positions at a number of facilities in the region in the hopes of minimizing the impact of the COVID crisis on their own communities while also sustaining their families until Tenet agrees to an equitable end to the dispute. The MNA doesn’t’ have an exact count of nurses taking per diem positions but can report that hundreds are working in a number of hospitals, including at both campuses of nearby UMass Memorial Medical Center, at both UMass Memorial HealthAlliance facilities in Clinton, and Leominster, at UMass Memorial Marlborough Hospital, at Milford Regional Medical Center, Harrington Hospital and Henry Heywood Hospital. Other nurses are working in vaccination sites and some in local nursing homes. The skill, expertise and helping hands of these nurses are much appreciated by their colleagues throughout the region.
Strong Statements of Support from Nurses in Local Hospitals
“As a nurse at UMass Memorial Medical Center and the co-chair of the local bargaining unit on the Memorial campus, it is important to know that the nurses at our hospital stand with the St. Vincent Hospital nurses and support them in maintaining their strike for as long as it takes to achieve the staffing levels and back to work provisions they need to properly care for their patients,” said Colleen Wolfe, RN. “As our CEO has stated, we are currently overwhelmed with patients due to the surge caused by the Delta variant, but no nurse places the blame on the nurses or the MNA, as it is Tenet that has abused these nurses, closed beds and services, and is spending millions to avoid accountability for providing safer patient care. The St. Vincent nurses are heroes and their struggle is being followed and applauded all over Central Mass. and yes, the world. They deserve our support as they are fighting for all of us.”
Cathy Mysliwiec, the other co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit on the Memorial campus echoes Wolfe’s assessment and applauds the support the nurses are providing hers and other hospitals in the region. “Contrary to insulting statements made by Tenet’s CEO that these nurses are sitting on the sidelines I can tell you they are working per diem at other hospitals and mine not only to help support their families but do their part to address this crisis,” she explained.
She also strongly supports the nurses’ decision to continue the strike in the face of Tenet’s abusive practices. “Tenet’s position is union busting at its best. The St Vincent nurses sounded the alarm for the sake of their community and our patients. We should be thanking the nurses who are courageous whistleblowers of Tenet’s shady behavior. Tenet needs to bring back these 700 nurses to their original positions and end this, it’s that simple.”
Lyn Flagg, RN, an emergency department nurse and co-chair of the MNA local bargaining unit on the University campus of UMass Memorial Medical Center, underscored the crisis the nurses are facing and points to Tenet as the cause of the crisis and their need to change their position to end the strike as the solution. “As an ED nurse I see the horrible toll daily reflected in the long waits and in the delay of vital care to this community,” Flagg explained. “We hold Tenet responsible for this situation and we need Tenet to end this so these nurses can return to work and reopen those desperately needed beds.”
“We completely support the St. V’s nurses. Their battle for safe staffing in order to provide safe care to their patients is a fight that belongs to all of us,” said Diane Lane-Cormier, RN and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Leominster Hospital. “We have had St, Vincent nurses coming in droves to help us out with our nursing shortage at HealthAlliance. They have been nothing but wonderful, caring nurses and we are pleased and grateful to be working side by side with them.”
Kathy Turini, RN a nurse leader at another UMass Memorial HealthAlliance hospital has high praise for the contributions the St. Vincent nurses are making at her facility. “We are grateful for the help that some of these nurses have provided to Clinton Hospital. I have had the pleasure of working with a few of them and they are dedicated, hard-working nurses. Staffing throughout the region is a crisis right now and they are giving us the support we desperately need.”
Sara Burton and Cheryl Hamel, RNs and co-chairs of the recently organized union with the MNA at Milford Regional Medical Center emphasized that the staffing crisis impacting theirs and other communities predates the strike. “The current nurse staffing crisis has multiple causes and has existed for a number of years. Nurses have been chronically overworked and exploited by the business of healthcare,” Burton stated.
“It is not a direct result of the strike by the courageous MNA/St Vincent nurses. In fact, many have been working in per diem positions in our hospitals to help ease the crisis. Their sacrifice demonstrates their commitment to safe patient care,” Burton added.
The voices of support by nurses for their fellow nurses joins a growing chorus of voices coming from all sectors of the community in recent days, including two powerful letters from the unions — UFCW 1445 and Teamsters Local 170 — representing most of the caregivers still working insider St. Vincent Hospital who place the blame for poor conditions inside the hospital, and the crisis outside the hospital on Tenet, and fully support the nurses call for a return to the positions they held prior to the strike. These letters were followed by a powerful statement by State Representatives Mary Keefe and David LeBoeuf, where they wrote in part: “Worcester is in the midst of a public health crisis with a ‘negative’ number of hospital beds throughout the region…This lack of services during the height of resurge of the COVID-19 pandemic has put all of us in the community at risk. There are over 700 nurses on the picket line. Bringing them back to their jobs would solve this crisis that our community faces.”
Most recently, Mayor Joe Petty and City Councilor and Chair of Public Health Sarai Rivera held a press conference supporting the St. Vincent nurses’ position and calling out Tenet for their efforts to endanger the community, where the Mayor stated, “Tenet Healthcare is demanding that these nurses end this strike with no guarantee that they will retain their previous positions or a commitment that they can return to work without fear of retaliation. These demands are unprecedented and violate the standard practice in any and all strikes and the high labor standards that we expect from all employers in our city. The demand put upon them by the hospitals corporate owners is not only unjust, it is detrimental to the safe restoration of services for our community. I want Tenet to know that we will not allow Worcester to be a testing ground for the imposition of unprecedented labor practices that harm unions and all workers. And when it comes to our nurses, who have given so much to us for so many years, I want Tenet to know that we in Worcester believe that they are irreplaceable.”
The nurses and Tenet Healthcare remain deadlocked over Tenet’s unprecedented demand that the nurses accept a retaliatory and punitive back to work provision that is not only unfair to nurses, but its replacement of highly skilled nurses with lesser qualified staff, would undermine all the patient safety gains the parties had negotiated throughout the strike. The hospital’s proposal also called for the nurses to retract all the unfair labor practice charges, opening the door for Tenet to continue its efforts to retaliate against the striking nurses. The nurses are clear that any negotiated Return to Work Agreement must also include a negotiated resolution of all the unfair labor practice charges the nurses have filed.
“From the beginning of our strike, we have been amazed and humbled by the tremendous support we have received from our community, particularly our fellow nurses., who truly understand the pivotal role we play in protecting this community, and who also understand that we are out on the street walking that picket line for one reason and one reason only – to convince Tenet Healthcare to provide us with the staffing and resources we need to keep our patients safe,” said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, longtime nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA).
As the strike continues, the nurses continue their effort to hold Tenet accountable for their actions and have filed a total of ten unfair labor practices against the corporation for its actions prior to and throughout the strike including making unlawful threats against striking nurses, retaliation and discrimination towards striking nurses, promises of benefits to non-strikers, and bad faith bargaining tactics, all designed to break the strike and to remove MNA as the nurses’ bargaining agent. This conduct has greatly disturbed the nurses, who are now demanding that any return-to-work agreement must also include resolution of the unfair labor practices and the conduct underlying them.
Tenet’s propensity for questionable and unlawful behavior is well documented, as the corporation has been subject to fines and other judgements from courts and governmental agencies totaling more than $1.8 billion over the last 20 years alone. A listing of those decisions can be found here. This includes the award in February of $10.6 million to two cardiologists at Tenet-owned Detroit Medical Center after a federal judge upheld an arbitrators’ decision that the hospital and Tenet acted with malice in firing them as retaliation for reporting violations at the facility. Four nurses at a Tenet facility in June of 2020 have also filed $25 million lawsuit against Tenet for alleged wrongful discharge, retaliation against whistleblowers, and intentional and/or reckless infliction of emotional distress, after the nurses reported preventable patient deaths in their emergency department due to understaffing during the height of the COVID crisis. And in February of 2020, Tenet and one of its California hospitals agreed to pay $1.41 million to settle false claims allegations brought by the federal government for knowingly charging Medicare for implanting unnecessary cardiac monitors into patients.
“As difficult as this has been for all of us, we take enormous comfort from the support we have received and continue to receive from all sectors of our local community and from around the world,” said Dominique Muldoon, RN, another longtime nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit. “No matter what lies and misinformation our CEO puts out, the public understands the core message of our strike, as shown on one of our signs, which is ‘if nurses are out here, there is something wrong in there.’ The public understands the key role we play in their care, particularly after what we all went through last year, and they know we are doing this not for personal gain, but to keep them safe.”
For more background on the strike and the issues involved, click here to learn more.