St. Luke’s Hospital nurses are calling on Southcoast Health to agree to a strong RN contract that will address major nurse retention and recruitment issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – Registered nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, will hold an informational picket on Thursday, January 20 as they seek to address longstanding nurse staffing problems that have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic by securing a strong RN union contract.
Nurses are urging hospital owner Southcoast Health to quickly come to an agreement to stem a significant exodus of nurses, which has created unsafe patient care conditions and left nurses exhausted and suffering from moral injury. Even prior to COVID-19 hitting Massachusetts in March of 2020, St. Luke’s hospital was losing nurses to lagging wages and unfair working conditions, with approximately 200 nurses leaving in the two years prior to the pandemic. Now, amid another surge driven by the omicron variant, nurses are fleeing the hospital for better pay and conditions at an alarming rate.
“I have been a nurse at St. Luke’s for 36 years. I have never seen it this bad,” said Deb Falk, ED nurse and Co-Chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee. “We struggle to provide exceptional trauma care due to lack of staff, with our nurses often having to leave several other patients for long periods of time, to provide care to trauma patients. As a result, many patients get less care and attention, putting them at risk for a decline in their condition. A contract for St. Luke’s nurses will help us both recruit and retain the nurses we need to give better care.”
“Our contract will make our wages competitive with area hospitals so we can improve our staffing levels and give the best possible care,” said Karen Corbett, FCU nurse and Co-Chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee. “Nurses are critical to the delivery of patient care and need to be able to go home at the end of their shift knowing that each patient has received the very best that they have to offer in a supportive environment.”
St. Luke’s RN Informational Picket
Date: Thursday, January 20
Time: 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Location: In front of the main entrance of St. Luke’s Hospital at 101 Page St. New Bedford
Details: Nurses, labor and community supporters, and elected officials will gather for informational picketing to highlight the need for a strong first RN contract at St. Luke’s that will improve conditions for patients, nurses, and the community.
St. Luke’s nurses voted in an NLRB election in November 2018 to join the MNA and began negotiating their contract in May 2019. They were making progress and ramping up a public campaign when the pandemic hit in March 2020. Negotiations were paused for several months while nurses cared for patients on the front lines of the pandemic. Nurses successfully pressured the hospital to make safety improvements during the pandemic, especially around safer personal protective equipment (PPE) and returned to bargaining in summer 2020.
Nurses waged a successful campaign in fall 2020 against a decertification attempt, winning in December 2020. Since that election result was finalized, nurses have built up a strong public campaign around standouts, lawn signs and digital ads, supplementing their strength at the bargaining table.
Throughout this year, nurses have made strong gains at the table and are in the final stretch of negotiating their contract. They continue to pressure Southcoast to agree to a robust wage step scale to help with nurse recruitment and retention, along with other key union protections to ensure nurses can provide safe, high-quality care to every patient at St. Luke’s.
Southcoast Health Finances
Southcoast Health was hugely profitable before the pandemic and has bounced back quickly from the initial shutdown in Spring 2020. Between 2014 and 2018, Southcoast made more than $337 million in profits – out-earning each of its competitors, despite serving large populations of Medicare and low-income Medicaid patients. Southcoast has financial benefits that other community hospitals do not, including an $83 million endowment, more than $75 million in investments, and $45.4 million in a Cayman Islands account, according to its FY2018 IRS Form 990. In 2019 alone, the Center for Health Information and Analysis reported that Southcoast made a $76.6 million profit.
After receiving $56.1 million in grants and $132 million in COVID-related loans from the federal government, Southcoast Hospitals ended 2020 with a $66.3 million surplus. In the latest data published by CHIA in June 2021, Southcoast Hospitals showed a profit of just under $93 million. Between March 2021 and June 2021 alone, Southcoast hospitals generated more than $38 million in profits.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is 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.