800 Tenet nurses vote to OK strike in Massachusetts

Dive Brief:

  • Some 800 registered nurses at Tenet’s St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts voted in favor of authorizing a strike Thursday, according to a release from the union representing them, the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
  • The hospital and union started negotiating a new contract before the pandemic began, in November 2019, according to MNA. The union cites staffing concerns worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and must give the hospital 10 days notice before going on strike.
  • If the union issues a notice and sets a date, the hospital will remain open and operational, a St. Vincent spokesperson said in an email statement. The two sides held another bargaining session Thursday with a federal mediator. The hospital’s parent company, Tenet, did not respond to a request for comment.

Dive Insight:

Tenet is the latest major for-profit chain under fire from labor unions that say hospital employers are putting profits ahead of safe staffing levels amid an ongoing pandemic.

The Dallas-based system announced it made $414 million in profit last year in its earnings report Tuesday, and also benefited from nearly $3 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds, MNA noted in a release.

Similarly, HCA Healthcare made a $3.7 billion profit in 2020, despite returning federal relief funds, sparking criticism from National Nurses United, the country’s largest nurses union.

St. Vincent Hospital and MNA have been negotiating a new contract for over a year, and on Jan. 28 the system issued its final offer that failed to address the union’s staffing and safety concerns, MNA said in a release.

Even before the pandemic hit, St. Vincent nurses voiced concerns over staffing. In February, more than 70% signed and delivered a petition to Tenet administration calling for safer staffing levels.

They cited an uptick in patient falls, more patients suffering from preventable bed sores and increased delays in treatment and medications, which the union attributes to inadequate staffing levels, excessive patient assignments and cuts to support staff, MNA said in a release.

Over the last ten months, more than 100 nurses have left St. Vincent, according to MNA.

Earlier in the pandemic when systems felt the financial squeeze of canceling elective procedures, many implemented workforce reduction measures.

Following staffing cuts made in May, St. Vincent nurses represented by MNA cast a vote of “no confidence” for the hospital’s CEO, Carolyn Jackson, and the rest of management, though no action was taken, according to the union.

MNA has unsuccessfully attempted to alter staffing guidelines through the state legislature for more than a decade, a hospital spokesperson said in an email statement.

“They also lost on the ballot question two years ago, and are now trying to gain through negotiations what they failed to get through the ballot initiative,” a spokesperson said.