Hospital Bosses Recruit Replacements for Striking Nurses

Nurse Strike

A girl wears buttons in support of her aunt who is a nurse at St. Vincent’s hospital in Worcester, Mass., as nurses announced a strike on March 7, 2021. (Matthew J. Lee / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Worcester, Mass.—The strike here by the members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association has just entered its 14th week. At nearly 100 days on the picket line, this is the longest nursing strike in over 30 years. The key issue? Safe staffing levels at the for-profit Tenet St. Vincent’s Hospital.

By the first day of the strike under the banner of “Patients Before Profits” on March 8, the hospital’s 800 registered nurses had already had enough. Now, adding insult to moral injury, Tenet has posted 100 positions for permanent replacement (a move decried by Massachusetts Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Representative James McGovern, and community leaders). The RNs decided in large membership meetings to stick together and repeat their demands.

At issue is Tenet’s refusal to agree to dip into its fantastical profits to fund a limit on the number of patients who could be assigned to one RN at a given moment. At issue is patients’ safety. “While health care workers rose to the occasion to provide the best care they could—using all their knowledge, creativity, and strength under shamefully difficult circumstances—their hospitals’ owners did not,” according to MNA President Katie Murphy, RN.

For two years, beginning well before the pandemic, the nurses signed thousands of reports of unsafe patient conditions; signed petitions to management, gave testimony of patients’ suffering, and then delivered an overwhelming vote of no confidence in Tenet executives, as the hospital’s owners remained unmoved.

“Our nurses have been sacrificing for our patients, families, and communities throughout this pandemic,” said Dominique Muldoon, RN, who worked on the Covid floor during the first surge and who cochairs the union at St Vincent’s. “We have moved out of our homes and isolated from loved ones.… (We) have witnessed unbearable suffering and been the only ones with patients, or been the conduit with families as they watched their loved ones die. (T)his is our duty. All that we ask is to be treated with respect and to be given the resources required to care for our patients and ourselves.”

Rather than fund the demands of frontline caregivers, Ronald Rittenmeyer, the CEO of Tenet, the national for-profit owner of the hospital, was quoted in the Dallas Morning News boasting about plans to use furloughs (yes, furloughs in hospitals during a pandemic), cuts in retirement benefits, and funding from the CARES Act to “improve their cash position.”

After receiving more than $2.8 billion in taxpayer funds during the pandemic, Tenet cut staff and suspended its contributions to non-union hospital workers’ 401(k) accounts. This was after the company posted a pandemic profit of $414 million—with more than $97 million in profits for the first quarter of 2021 alone—and saw it stock nearly triple in price, going from $21.76 at the beginning of the pandemic to a high of $64.77 as of May 25.

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