Risky practices jeopardize the health of patients and workers.
Nurses from St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester will hold an informational picket outside the hospital’s entrance on December 1, protesting unsafe working conditions. For months, nurses have been grappling with low staffing levels, the laying off of secretaries and support staff, the comingling of COVID and non COVIT patients, and the assignment to up to five patients at a time. The health of both patients and staff has been put at risk. Now, the nurses will be calling upon for-profit Tenet Healthcare to give them a better environment.
“As nurses, we are legally and morally obligated to advocate for our patients to ensure they are safe and receive the care they deserve,” said Marlena Pellegrino, a frontline nurse at the hospital and chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, in a press release. “We have tried for months to convince our administration and the Tenet corporation to provide us with the resources we need to keep the public safe, yet they only make things worse. Now we are taking to the streets with this picket to alert the public and the community of our concerns as they have the most to lose if Tenet doesn’t alter its dangerous practices – our patients lives are on the line.”
According to David Schildmeier, director of public communications at the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the nurses have been struggling since the onset of the coronavirus. They are now preparing for the second surge of the pandemic, and the hospital has not adopted safer standards of care. As a result, they are calling for improved staffing levels, adequate PPE, and the pay and benefits they need.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the nurses have struggled to have the adequate staffing levels to meet the needs of the patients,” said Schildmeier. “During the first phase, the hospital finally agreed with us that they would have COVID specific floors. … There was a strict limit, where no nurse would have more than three COVID patients, which is appropriate, because these patients are so sick and so needy. Now that the second phase is happening, they are admitting COVID patients on two floors and expecting nurses to have a mix of patients. Having five patients, anyway, is unsafe and inadequate. Having five assignments, mixed with COVID patients, is a disaster waiting to happen.”
While the hospital used to run smoothly, in the last year and half, it has been getting more direction from Tenet Healthcare’s corporation based in Dallas to cut corners, said Schildmeier. Tenet is profiting from these actions, he said, and has even stated that it would use furloughs and CARES Act funding to improve its cash position. According to a press release, nurses believe that it would not be difficult for Tenet to afford the improvements that they are calling for, but corporate heads in Dallas have been benefitting by using taxpayer dollars, laying off staff, and forcing nurses to take more patients than they can handle.
Shira Laucharoen is a reporter based in Boston. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. In the past she has written for Sampan newspaper, The Somerville Times, Scout Magazine, Boston Magazine, and WBUR.