Minnesota health system leaders get 'no confidence' vote from nurses

Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association at seven hospitals in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports said they have taken a vote of no confidence in their CEOs and other top executives.

The union, an affiliate of the National Nurses United, represents more than 22,000 nurses and other healthcare professionals in Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Members announced the no-confidence vote in the leaders of four health systems — Fairview Health Services, Children's Minnesota, North Memorial Health and St. Luke's Duluth — on Aug. 2. They contend executives have failed to resolve crises of understaffing and retention at their workplaces.

"Thinking back on my shifts these last few months alone, being short-staffed is the norm. We are constantly being asked to do more with less, leading to potentially unsafe situations for staff and patients," Chelsea Schafter, a registered nurse at M Health Fairview, said in a news release. "If these executives aren't getting paid to solve the crushing conditions for workers and patients in our hospitals, what are they paid millions of dollars to do? It is past time for hospital CEOs to step up and to be held accountable to fix the problems they created."

In announcing the no-confidence vote, the union cited a number of studies, including a survey of more than 2,500 nurses published in May by Trusted Health, which found 58 percent of respondents reported they were actively looking for a job away from the bedside or outside of nursing completely, had plans to do so within the next year or were planning to retire from the workforce completely.

The no-confidence vote comes amid negotiations of 15,000 nurses at hospitals in the Twin Cities and Duluth for a new contract. Union members — who also work at hospitals run by Allina Health, HealthPartners and Essentia Duluth — are calling for "solutions to short-staffing and retention that will put patients before profits in Minnesota hospitals." 

Contracts expired for nurses May 31 in the Twin Cities and June 30 for nurses in Duluth.

In a statement shared with Becker's, Eric Lohn, co-president/CEO and CFO of St. Luke's, and Nick Van Deelen, MD, co-president/CEO and chief medical officer of St. Luke's, said the health system has "long served as a champion for our nurses who do important work every day" and offered a 10 percent raise for nurses over three years. The union is asking for 36.5 percent over three years, they stated.

"Raises of this magnitude would severely increase the cost of healthcare for our patients, decrease the number of community members who can afford healthcare and decrease our ability to pay competitive wages to our other valued employees," Mr. Lohn and Dr. Van Deelen said.

They added: "While MNA has repeatedly declined the use of a mediator, we will continue to advocate for one to help us reach a responsible, fair and equitable contract."

The Twin Cities Hospitals group — which includes Children's Minnesota, North Memorial Health, Fairview and HealthPartners Methodist Hospital — stated Aug. 2 that contract talks began in mid-March at the four hospital systems represented by the group, and each hospital has had more than 15 negotiating sessions with the union without coming to an agreement.

The hospitals proposed "the largest wage increase in 15 years while keeping nurses' benefits unchanged over contract years," according to the statement. "While we have made small progress in some areas, there remain significant differences between our proposals and those of the union."

"Hospital systems are continuing to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, with many facing significant financial challenges," the statement added. "In this climate, wage increases proposed by the union between 32 [percent] to 37 percent are unrealistic, unaffordable and unwise, considering the growing affordability crisis facing patients and healthcare systems across the country."

If the labor dispute remains unresolved, the union could call a strike, but it would require a vote from nurses, according to the Minnesota Reformer.

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