It’s been a long three months for the nurses of St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA. After 91 days of striking, they’re still a long way from their goal of reducing the number of patients assigned to each nurse at the facility. Negotiations have stalled with parent company Tenet Healthcare, but these nurses say they’re not backing down anytime soon. For them, nothing could be more important than patient safety.
Three Months and Counting
The nurses first started striking on March 8th with the support of the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), and it looks like the strike could possibly last another three months. Tenet Healthcare has already hired replacement nurses to keep patient care running.
St. Vincent Hospital CEO Carolyn Jackson commented, “Three months is a long time, and we were disappointed to hear that in their in-person meeting last week, MNA leadership said to be prepared to be out ’til September.”
Union spokesperson David Schildmeier responded with, “The mantra is they are willing to stay out one day longer, whatever that is.”
“It’s been a month since we last talked, and we would like to put a reasonable proposal on the table so we can start talking again,” Jackson said.
The nurses would like a maximum nurse-patient ratio of 1-4 in surgical, medical, and telemetry units, with the option for additional staff to jump in if needed. They also want increased staffing in the ER and ancillary support in each unit. They say the current ratio of 1-5 is unsafe.
Tenet Healthcare, based in Dallas, already proposed a 1-4 ratio in three of the eight medical/surgical floors and 1-2 ratios in the progressive care unit as well as another critical care float nurse to address additional patient loads.
But the MNA says that’s not enough.
Talks stalled over the last few weeks with neither side willing to budge. Nurses say it’s time for the hospital to adopt new leadership.
Marlena Pellegrino, a nurse and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the MNA, said, “The 700 striking St. Vincent nurses remain united and committed to do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety and dignity of our patients. Instead of issuing threats to replace the nurses who care for our patients, it is time for Tenet to permanently replace those at the top whose policies over the last two years have endangered them.”
The MNA says the strike has become one of the longest in more than a decade.
Bonding Over Safe Staffing
Despite their lack of progress thus far, the nurses say the strike has only brought them closer together.
Nurse Dominique Muldoon said in an interview on Monday, “As far as the strike goes, we’re just as strong and solid and determined as ever to see this through to get the staffing we need. We’re hoping this thing will resolve soon, but we’re staying strong until we can get back to the table and get some staffing and a good resolution.”
“We’re stronger than March 8, we’ve really bonded around this message of safe staffing,” Pellegrino added. “Ninety-one days is a long time. But that and the reason why we’re doing it…it has to be done, it’s the right thing to do.”
Both Pellegrino and Muldoon estimate that Tenet Healthcare has spent around $65 million on replacement nurses and additional security since the strike began.
“It’s disgusting that they have taken this stand and spent this kind of money when we could have had a contract that was settled amicably without spending all this money,” Muldoon said. “I don’t know what’s going on in their head.”
“What we’re asking for is completely reasonable; nurses advocate for their patients,” Pellegrino added. “The type of care we were forced to give was not meeting patients’ needs for compassion and dignity.”
Hospital CEO Carolyn Jackson said she’s not sure how much Tenet has spent on replacement nurses, while adding that the MNA’s estimates tend to run high. She defended the company’s decision to keep additional nurses on staff until the strike can be resolved, saying it’s “an effort to enhance stability of nursing workforce, and make sure we have consistent care, all in anticipation of them being out on strike for a longer period of time.”
The strike seems to gain momentum with every passing day. The MNA says it’s planning a demonstration this weekend with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern.