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St. Vincent Nurses Vote to Authorize Strike to Improve Staffing

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   February 12, 2021

Staffing levels and patient safety are at the center of the nurses' demands. 

Nurses at St. Vincent Hospital, in Worcester, Massachusetts, overwhelmingly voted Wednesday night to authorize their negotiating committee to call for a strike should bargaining talks with Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare break down.

The 800 nurses say that Tenet refuses their demand, after spending more than a year in negotiations, to increase staffing levels at St. Vincent hospital to better protect patients during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and beyond, according to a Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) news release.

The parties resumed talks with a federal mediator Thursday, in which nothing was resolved.

"Management chose to respond through the federal mediator that they had no interest in dealing with staffing in any way and then issued an ultimatum: we must accept their last best and final offer prior to Feb. 18th," according to a statement released by MNA. "In response we sent a message to management that we remain committed to engaging in a good faith negotiation on all issues, and it must include staffing. Through the mediator, they stated they will not engage on staffing."

"Be assured we do not respond to ultimatums and threats and we will do whatever it takes to ensure we can provide the care our patients and our community deserves," the statement continued, "including planning for the strike the nurses authorized should that be needed."

Should the nurses' union strike, St. Vincent will remain fully operational, Tenet Healthcare said in a statement.

"The MNA is trying to alter staffing guidelines and has unsuccessfully tried to put forth staffing ratios in the legislature for more than a decade," the statement read. "Our current collective bargaining agreement already includes staffing guidelines which were negotiated with the MNA and that are better than most other hospitals."

Patient safety is at the heart of the matter, said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, a frontline nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the MNA.

"As nurses, we are legally and morally obligated to advocate for our patients to ensure they are safe and receive the care they deserve," she said. "While our goal is to avert a strike, should Tenet maintain its obstinance at the table, we will be compelled to take that step because our patients' lives are on the line."

Since the onset of the pandemic, nurses have filed more than 500 official reports of conditions that they say have jeopardized the safety of patients, cast a no confidence vote in their CEO, and watched more than 100 nurses leave the facility, according to the press release.

The nurses, who previously called out Tenet for "corporate greed," heightened that charge Tuesday after Tenet released the company's latest earnings report, posting a net income from continuing operations of $414 million in Q4 2020, improving upon a net loss of $3 million in Q4 2019.

The day before the vote, St. Vincent's CEO Carolyn Jackson said any thought of a work stoppage was "irresponsible" considering the circumstances, according to MassLive.

"We certainly are hopeful that we can reach an amicable resolution to the contract, and that there is no strike," Jackson told the news organization. "I feel that it's irresponsible to even talk about a strike during a global pandemic and we feel we have an excellent offer on the table."

“As nurses, we are legally and morally obligated to advocate for our patients to ensure they are safe and receive the care they deserve.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

St. Vincent's 800 nurses are calling for increased staffing levels to better protect patients.

Tenet posted a net income from continuing operations of $414 million in Q4 2020, improving upon a net loss of $3 million in Q4 2019, according to its latest earnings report, released Tuesday.

St. Vincent's CEO Carolyn Jackson said any thought of a work stoppage was "irresponsible" during a pandemic.


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