Nurses Face Furloughs Despite Need During Coronavirus Surge

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Even as health care professionals work hard and risk exposure in response to the coronavirus pandemic, many of their jobs are on the line.

Nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester are frustrated after they say the hospital's Dallas-based owner, Tenet Healthcare, has started furloughing nurses just as the COVID-19 surge is hitting Massachusetts.

"We need more hands on deck, not less," said Marlena Pellegrino, a registered nurse in the hospital's Med-Surg unit who has worked there the past 33 years.

"What they're proposing would be so detrimental to what's going on in the facility, it would just cripple us," said Marie Ritacco, a registered nurse at Saint Vincent who's also a vice president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

The MNA says Saint Vincent and its nurses have been in talks over the past few weeks over voluntary furloughs, and how they can best shift their workforce to handle the elimination of elective procedures with the increase in coronavirus patients in the ICU.

But those talks broke down Wednesday night, and nurses say Tenet just began implementing their plans.

"Mandatory furloughs, canceling shifts, basically sending nurses anywhere in the building with minimal training," said Pellegrino.

"Saint Vincent will grant requests of nurses who have asked to be furloughed and will seek additional volunteers," Tenet said in a statement. "We will continue reassigning nurses to units where there is a greater need for staffing … with proper training."

"This is pure, unadulterated greed," said Ritacco. "There's $800 million available for hospitals in the state, so they are simply trying to take advantage of this and pad their bottom line."

When asked by NBC10 Boston about this during his daily coronavirus update Thursday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said, "One of the reasons we put – it's almost a billion dollars now – into the health care system since the start of this outbreak was to ensure that we could create financial stability for our partners in the health care community."

One thing both sides agree on is that any emergency measures would only be for the next 90 days during this crisis and then could be revisited.

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