Nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital end longest strike in Massachusetts history

Photo: Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass. On Monday ratified a new contract ending the longest strike in Massachusetts history at 301 days, clearing the way for the hospital to begin recall nurses to provide patient care and fully reopen hospital beds to respond to Omicron Surges, according to the Massachusetts Nursing Associationnm

The contract provides for general increases of 2% each year of the three-year contract, starting with the first increase retroactive to January 1, 2021 and the last increase on June 30, 2025.

The secret ballot vote took place all day Monday, with nurses announcing the result at a press conference after the final vote count. The result was a final tally of 487-9 in favor of ratification. A total of 502 ballots were cast, with three ballots left blank and three disputed ballots.

On December 17, the 285th day of the strike, nurses reached a tentative agreement with Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare that guarantees striking nurses the right to return to their original posts and provides for staff improvements that nurses needed to end the strike. and return to hospital to provide care to their community in the face of a new emerging wave of COVID-19 driven by the Omicron variant.

The deal was reached after two weeks of discussions with federal mediators and was ultimately reached in an in-person session, which was arbitrated by US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.

It came after two years of negotiations and over 43 bargaining sessions, and followed what is now the longest nationwide nurses strike in over 15 years and the longest nurses’ strike in history. Massachusetts, with more than nine months of picketing, community rallies and marches, as well as support from federal, state and city officials.

The strike also garnered support from faith-based organizations, social justice organizations and workers and their members.

The final element of the agreement reached in the last session was a “back to work” provision, which guarantees all nurses who have gone on strike the right to return to work in the same position, the same hours and the same time. the same shift as before the strike, while providing a process for the parties to follow to recall nurses to work.

Under the agreement, the hospital will have 30 days after ratification to recall all nurses to the hospital to provide care.

In a statement, Saint Vincent said the hospital would soon begin recalling nurses to work and scheduling them for reorientation, with all returning nurses expected to be back in the fold by January 22. The hospital plans to reopen more beds after nurses return, and has already reopened 12 inpatient behavioral health beds that were closed in August due to understaffing exacerbated by the strike.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT

The new contract includes staffing improvements on a number of units sought by nurses, including an assignment limit of four patients on the hospital’s cardiac post-surgical unit. Before the strike, these nurses were often assigned to five patients, with no ability to reduce an assignment based on patient needs, according to the MNA.

The contract also includes a mix of four and five patient assignments on the remaining seven medical-surgical and telemetry floors, including a limit of four daytime and evening patient assignments on the two cardiac telemetry floors. During this time, there will be no more than five patients assigned to each nurse in the behavioral health unit.

The agreement also includes improvements in the allocation of resource nurses in many units. Resource nurses provide an additional nurse on the unit who is there to assist with the flow of patients in and out of the unit, to assist a nurse with a complex patient, or to take charge of a patient. patient assignment to ensure that other nurses have a safer patient load.

The agreement also includes language that limits the hospital’s ability to accommodate nurses, a controversial process whereby a nurse can be discharged home when the employer determines she is not needed.

One of the main improvements to the agreement is language regarding workplace violence against nurses, who the MNA says are subjected to workplace assault to the same degree as police officers and prison guards.

New wording provides for two RN seats on the hospital’s workplace safety committee, adds new wording committing the committee to work to monitor and resolve issues related to workplace violence, requires the hospital to staff staff and maintain a metal detector to monitor all patients and visitors in the ED, and add additional staff contractually enforceable by a police detail during the night shift seven days a week and on three shifts on weekends and holidays.

The agreement also provides for “assault compensation” for a nurse who is assaulted by a patient or visitor. A nurse who receives Workers’ Compensation and uses sickness or vacation pay as a result of an assault in the workplace for the first five days will have this time reinstated into her sick / vacation time.

Another key feature of the contract was nurses’ ability to secure improved health insurance benefits for part-time nurses, with all nurses working 24 hours or more receiving a premium, with Tenet paying 80% of the cost – up from 65. years ago. % – which keeps pace with benefits for nurses working at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

THE BIGGEST TREND

The deal comes at a time when hospitals are understaffed and under-resourced. The spread of variants such as Delta and Omicron is prolonging the shortage of workers in the healthcare industry, straining the profitability of hospitals and increasing rates of burnout, according to an October report from Moody’s Investor Service.

Insufficient staffing in parts of the United States has extended beyond clinical staff, such as nurses, respiratory therapists, and technicians, to non-clinical workers, such as staff in dietetic and environmental services. This has led hospitals to suspend elective overnight surgeries.

In addition, the shortage of hospital workers has hampered recruitment and retention and pushed up wages, which the report says will continue this year. This will lead to a further decline in profit margins.

The scarcity of labor is likely to increase the pressure on the margins of some issuers in the near term, but it is unlikely to trigger credit downgrades, according to Fitch Ratings in November.

Multiple factors are contributing to workforce pressures, including staff burnout caused by the persistent COVID-19 pandemic and an overall shortage of skilled help, which has resulted in higher costs to hire temporary staff , as well as wage inflation.

Additionally, the report noted that understaffing is forcing some behavioral health and senior housing service operators to cut admission rates.

ON THE RECORD

“I am here tonight humbled beyond words by our trip and we are delighted to announce that our members voted for the massive ratification of a deal that officially ends the historic strike by nurses in Saint-Vincent. “said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, 35. nurse at the hospital and co-chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association local bargaining unit. “For almost 10 months, our nurses have done what is necessary for safer patient care, for the honor of our profession and for the rights of all workers who make the difficult decision to engage in a legal strike of return to their original post. here tonight, we can say with pride that we have achieved our goals. “

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the author: [email protected]