Catholic Health workers claim inadequate staffing is hindering patient care

Healthcare workers at Buffalo, N.Y.-based Catholic Health's hospitals allege chronic understaffing has jeopardized patient care, according to a union statement. 

The workers are members of the Communications Workers of America and plan to express their concerns Aug. 25 during an informational picket and rally.

Conditions for workers and patients have deteriorated at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo, Cheektowaga, N.Y.-based St. Joseph Campus and Kenmore (N.Y.) Mercy Hospital, because of staffing issues, according to the union statement. Communications Workers of America members also contend that current conditions are especially concerning amid the latest COVID-19 wave fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant. 

"[Workers] are demanding a fair and equitable contract that protects patient care by ensuring safe staffing levels," the union said.

About 2,500 unionized healthcare workers at Mercy, St. Joseph and Kenmore Mercy hospitals are in contract negotiations with hospital management amid rising concerns about working conditions. The latest contract expires Sept. 30.

Catholic Health told Becker's it is committed to bargaining in good faith with the union to reach contracts with fair, competitive wages and benefits, while allowing hospitals to continue providing high quality, affordable care. 

It also highlighted its efforts regarding staffing.

"While negotiations continue, we are in the midst of a local and national labor shortage, affecting big and small employers across the country and healthcare providers here in Western New York," Catholic Health said in an Aug. 24 statement. "We've added additional resources within our recruitment department and our team is working diligently to fill all vacant positions. We participate in numerous job fairs and hiring events, and market our job openings extensively throughout the region and beyond."

The health system said staffing, however, continues to remain a challenge because of lack of qualified candidates, extended unemployment benefits and extensive state-mandated leave policies.

"Like other area healthcare providers, we continue to hire contracted agency staff to supplement our workforce. Despite these challenges, we continue to recruit and develop qualified candidates," said Catholic Health. 

The health system said it is also pursuing new channels to ensure staff have the supplies and equipment they need. 

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