Worcester nurses strike amid patient safety concerns

woman in blue scrub suit wearing white mask
File photo/Kristine Wook via Instant Images

By Megan Forsythe
BU News Service

Some 700 Worcester nurses are on strike in Worcester, Mass., protesting what they are calling dangerous conditions at St. Vincent Hospital, following nearly two years of contract negotiations.

The strike comes after 17 months of negotiations between the owner of St. Vincent Hospital, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, and the MNA. St. Vincent nurses have been working without a contract since 2019, and now plan to picket from 6 a.m. to midnight every day until a settlement is reached, according to MNA officials.

According to former frontline nurse and co-chair of the local bargaining unit of the MNA, Marlena Pellegrino, the strike, which started Monday, is putting a focus on the safety of patients and the hospital community

“We are sad to see that Tenet holds so little value for our patients,” Pellegrino said a press release. “… yet, we are resolved to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to protect our patients, as it is safer to strike now than allow Tenet to continue endangering our patients every day on every shift.”

The negotiations have focused on pay for nurses and concerns over staffing levels. Nurses have advocated for lowering the ratio of nurses to medical-surgical patients from one nurse per five patients to one nurse per four.  While the industry standard typically falls between four and five, ratios of four-to-one have been proven to result in thousands fewer patient deaths

According to a statement released by MNA, nurses have tried to convince Tenet to improve patient care conditions at the facility, which have only been worsened by the pandemic. The nurses have filed more than 600 official “unsafe staffing” reports informing management in real-time that patient care conditions jeopardized patient safety.

Increases in patient falls, patients with bedsores, and dangerous delays in patients receiving medication and treatment due to the lack of appropriate staffing and excessive patient assignments were also reported. 

On Feb. 10, the day before their final negotiation session with Tenet, nurses voted to authorize the strike, with 90%in favor. 

At the last negotiation session, Tenet reiterated that their previous offer was their best and final one, regardless of the strike. The company had proposed lowering the staffing ratio, but only in specific instances. 

As nurses protested out front of the hospital on Monday, 115 nurses crossed the picket line. To keep the hospital running during the strike, Tenet has hired hundreds of temporary nurses from around the country.

On the same day the strike was authorized, Tenet also announced annual profits of more than $400 million which the MNA said added insult to injury.

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