Hundreds of nurses who work at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, rallied Sunday, one day before their planned strike Monday to protest what they say are dangerous conditions.
The nurses say the conditions are putting patients at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the problems, they says, are dangerously high patient-to-nurse rations, not enough support staff and high turnover. That's why they also want higher wages and better benefits for part-time workers.
"We've lost about 25 nurses in the emergency room alone in the last year," said registered nurse Beckett Augat.
"Patients aren't being attended to. They're falling. There's been multiple falls. Recently, there was a couple of falls that led to fractures," said registered nurse Charlotte McKeon. "It's very disheartening because you know you're not providing the best care for your patients, and it's shameful."
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The nurses' union has made it clear for weeks that they plan to strike on Monday unless management agrees to boost staffing to better protect patients during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
The strike comes after negotiations between the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) and Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, which owns the hospital, broke down.
St. Vincent nurses, community and labor supporters, along with state and local public officials joined the rally ahead of Monday’s strike.
About 800 nurses plan to start the strike at 6 a.m. on March 8, according to a statement from the MNA. They hope to send a message that something needs to change now.
Tenet and St. Vincent management "refuse to heed nurses' call to increase staffing levels to better protect their patients during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and beyond," the union said in a statement.
In a statement released Sunday, St. Vincent assured that the hospital is prepared and staffed to continue safely caring for patients while its nurses go on strike.
"This strike will only exacerbate divisiveness during a critical stage of the COVID-19 pandemic when we should be coming together to care for our patients and community," the hospital said in a written statement. "We believe this strike is irresponsible in the middle of an ongoing pandemic."
St. Vincent CEO Carolyn Jackson said that many nurses actually quit because the union bullied its own members.
St. Vincent maintains that staffing levels are appropriate and called its most recent contract proposal on Jan. 28 its "last, best, and final" offer.
The latest contract proposal also includes wage increases between 5% and 22% by the end of 2022, enhanced benefits for part-time nurses and hiring critical care nurses.
Jackson previously said that St. Vincent has the "most generous staffing language of any contract with the MNA" in the state and the hospital is prepared in the case of a strike.
Muldoon said the MNA modified its proposal to ask for staffing ratios to be mostly a 1-to-4 ratio of nurses to patients with some 1-to-5 ratios. She said currently all nurses on the surgical-medical floor have five patients.
The last time St. Vincent nurses went on strike was in 2000, when a 49-day work stoppage helped them get their first union contract.