Third Stimulus Check: St. Vincent nurses in Massachusetts in fourth week of strike for safe staffing
Nurses at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts are entering the fourth week of strike action. St. Vincent is owned by Tenet Healthcare, a Dallas, Texas-based conglomerate that has so far spent at least $22 million to hire strikebreaking replacement nurses.
After a series of federally mediated negotiations, the nurses, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, took their demand for safe ratios and patient care to the picket line on March 8 .
Roughly 700 nurses maintain the picket in shifts. Two entrances, one to the parking garage and to the loading docks, have become hotspots. Last week, the hospital installed two surveillance towers to monitor both entrances 24/7, under the pretext of maintaining safety. Worcester police officers, paid for by the hospital to keep the entrances open at a rate of $30,000 a day, installed a surveillance camera of their own.
Even before the pandemic, medical-surgical nurses at St. Vincent were facing a rise in patient acuity, increasing demands on their labor, which have led to burnout and adverse patient outcomes. Studies have shown that safe ratios lead to better patient outcomes and lower morbidity. Administrators at St. Vincent Hospital, however, like at so many other hospitals, have “flexed” ratios in order to maximize profits. Before the pandemic, nurses would regularly have to care for six or seven patients, even though their contract called for a maximum of five.
When St. Vincent Hospital was forced to cancel profitable elective procedures at the beginning of the pandemic, many staff were furloughed, some leaving for good. The intensive care unit (ICU) was overrun, nurses converted the progressive care unit into a makeshift ICU and medical-surgical nurses were maxing out on assignments full of COVID-19 patients, some of whom should have been in the ICU.
Nurses are not the only staff who have been forced to work under unsafe ratios. Ancillary staff, including secretaries, personal care assistants (PCAs), critical care technicians, operating room technicians and respiratory therapists, have all had to take on assignments far beyond what is safe.
In a video posted to Facebook by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1445, which represents many ancillary staff and recently came to a sellout agreement to avert a strike by its 600 members, some PCAs reported working for 60 hours a week and caring for up to 20 patients at once, when safe levels max out at six or seven.
Striking nurses at St. Vincent do not receive strike pay from the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) and must demonstrate financial need to access the union’s ad hoc relief fund. Meanwhile, the parent company of St. Vincent Hospital, Tenet Healthcare, with no lack for resources, has been spending with over $5 million a week in an effort to break the strike.