Regional Council 2 News
St. Vincent Nurses Will Begin Sixth Week on Strike for Safer Patient Care on April 11, as Dallas-Based Tenet’s Cost to Avoid Negotiating a Settlement Will Surpass $33.5 million
Money spent on replacement nurses, police details and other measures to force and prolong the strike could easily meet the nurses call for safer staffing; Lawmakers secure full COBRA subsidies to help striking nurses receive affordable healthcare
While Tenet spends tens of millions of dollars to keep nurses on the street, nurses are resolute and committed to their strike as long as it takes as support for their cause grows and with a slate of events planned to keep their spirits up (see list below)
WORCESTER, Mass. – This Sunday, April 11, the St. Vincent Hospital nurses will begin their sixth week on strike as part of their ongoing struggle to convince Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare to address a growing patient safety crisis at the Worcester-based hospital.
As the strike continues, St. Vincent’s for-profit owner is projected to spend more than $33.5 million* to prolong the strike, inclusive of costs for hundreds of replacement nurses paid twice as much as regular staff, more than $30,000 a day for police details, along with other costs associated with avoiding meeting the nurses demands for better staffing and other patient safety measures.
“It is truly disheartening to see our employer continue to throw away millions of dollars to avoid accountability for providing nurses the resources we need to keep our patients and our community safe,” said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, longtime nurse at the hospital and Co-Chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “In the face of this corporate greed, our members are stronger than ever and remain totally committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure our patients finally receive the care and dignity they expect and deserve from our community hospital.”
Weekend Strike Events Keep Spirits High
A key factor buoying nurses’ spirits throughout the strike are a number of special events they themselves have planned along with events organized by supporters, including two candlelight vigils held for the nurses by Interfaith Worcester, a coalition of 21 faith-based organizations, who are standing behind the nurses’ cause and who have been calling for Tenet to meet its moral obligation to the nurses and the patients of Worcester. Other events this weekend include:
Saturday, April 10, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. – Poor People’s Campaign Car Caravan circling the hospital and ending with a rally on the strike line.
Saturday, April 10, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – Union Troubadour Ben Grosscup will bring music and song to all of the entrances on the line.
Saturday, April 10, beginning at 12 p.m. – Grilling hotdogs and hamburgers with State Senator Jamie Eldridge and State Rep. Tami Gouveia.
Sunday, April 11, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. – Rally, union songs and music on the strike line by DSA (Democratic Socialists of America).
Sunday, April 11, beginning at 12 p.m. – Grilling sausage, peppers and onions with the North Worcester County Legislative Delegation – State Senator John Cronin and State Reps Natalie Higgins, Meg Kilcoyne and Mike Kushmerek.
The strike began on March 8, after Tenet refused to negotiate with the nurses over improvements the nurses are seeking to address unsafe patient care conditions in the hospital. The decision to strike followed earnest and painstaking efforts over the last two years by the nurses to convince Tenet to improve the patient care conditions at the facility, poor conditions that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Adding insult to injury, the same day nurses voted to authorize the strike, Tenet announced profits of more than $400 million.
The nurses’ strike and their stand for safer patient care has galvanized support from a variety of public officials, labor, faith-based organizations and community advocates, including the entire Worcester City Council, the Worcester state legislative delegation, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Edward Markey, Congressman Jim McGovern and Attorney General Maura Healy, who have all visited the nurses strike line. Senators Warren and Markey and Congressman McGovern sent a letter to Tenet’s CEO in Dallas urging Tenet to negotiate with the nurses to address the nurses’ concerns over needed staffing improvements to ensure safe care.
Policymakers Work to Ensure Striking Nurses Access to COBRA Subsidies
The nurses received another boost this past week as Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), Congressman James P. McGovern (MA-02) and Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-05) worked with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Secretary Marty Walsh to ensure that the St. Vincent nurses, along with other striking workers across the nation are eligible for full COBRA subsidies under the American Rescue Plan.
“As St. Vincent nurses continue organizing to demand fair staffing ratios and patient safety, I’m proud we secured this important guidance affirming that no worker should be asked to choose between fair labor conditions and health care,” said Rep. McGovern. “This is a big win, not just for the nurses at St. Vincent, but for workers across the country. Health care is a human right and we will continue working to protect and expand access to high quality care for all Americans.”
“The nurses of St. Vincent Hospital deeply appreciate the leadership provided by Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and the Biden administration, Congresswoman Pressley, Congressman McGovern, Congresswoman Clark and Congressman Courtney for their efforts to provide COBRA subsidies to ensure our 800 nurses have access to quality health care for our families, as we now move into our sixth week of a strike to ensure the safety of our patients and our community,” said St. Vincent RN Pellegrino. “Being on strike is a stressful process but having the support of such great leaders gives us the strength to persevere and do what we know is right.”
In the last year alone, nurses have filed more than 600 official “unsafe staffing” reports (more than 110 such reports have been filed since Jan. 1, 2021) in which nurses informed management in real time that patient care conditions jeopardized the safety of their patients. The nurses also report their patients in Worcester have experienced an increase in patient falls, an increase in patients suffering from preventable bed sores, potentially dangerous delays in patients receiving needed medications and other treatments – all due to lack of appropriate staffing, excessive patient assignments, and cuts to valuable support staff.
Staffing Improvements Sought by the Nurses
As evidenced by its own report of massive profits, Tenet can well afford the additional positions necessary to implement the MNA staffing proposal that could end this strike. The money being spent to prolong the strike could easily address the proposed staffing improvements the nurses are seeking, which are staffing standards on a par with other hospitals in Worcester and across the state, including:
- Improvements to the current staffing guidelines to ensure all nurses have safe patient assignments and support staff to ensure safe patient care. Throughout the hospital, Tenet has forced nurses to consistently care for too many patients while it has cut essential support staff positions. The nurses’ staffing proposal calls for improved limits on the number of patients nurses are assigned on many units, including a resource nurse (to coordinate care on the unit and provide support with complex cases) and a commitment to provide support staff positions across all units. A critical aspect of the staffing proposal is a four-patient assignment on the medical surgical floors, which is consistent with the standard of care provided at UMass Memorial Medical Center and a number of other hospitals in the state.
- Creation of a pool of nurses who are expert in caring for critically ill patients, which is essential to support nurses in the emergency department who, in addition to taking care of five or six patients, are also expected to care for patients in need of ICU level care, who are waiting for a bed to open in the ICU. ICU and trauma patients must have a nurse dedicated to no more than one or two patients, which is the safe standard of care for these patients.
- The addition of what are called “STAT and Rapid Response” nurses, which are nurses who would be available to respond to urgent and critical situations when a patient is suffering a code or other serious decline in their condition on the medical/surgical floors. When needed, these nurses assist in stabilizing and caring for the patient until they can be transferred to the ICU. They are especially important to support newly graduated nurses, who most often work the off shift where there are often fewer experienced nurses working. Again, UMass Memorial Medical Center provides this level of support to its nurses.
For a more detailed review of the staffing crisis, efforts by nurses to convince Tenet to address the crisis, as well as proposals nurses are seeking to improve patient care, click here to view a previous press release on the matter.
*The estimate of $34 million is based on Tenet’s public disclosure at the outset of the strike that the cost of replacement nurses was $5.4 million for the first week multiplied by the six weeks of the strike, and also including the city’s confirmed weekly cost for police details of $210,000 multiplied by six weeks. This figure does not include the hospital’s cost for its own expanded internal security force, the installation of special high-tech camera systems outside the hospital entrances, and the fleet of buses and vans the hospital is using to transport the strike replacement nurses to and from the facility throughout the day every day of the strike. The MNA last week sent a letter to Tenet CEO Carolyn Jackson requesting a copy of the contracts for the strike replacement nurses so that the nurses and the public have a full picture of the resources Tenet is using to prolong this strike. For a copy of that letter and other information related to the strike, visit www.massnurses.org/StVincentNurses.
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.