Lawmakers join call for Tenet CEO to end nurses strike at Massachusetts hospital

A Massachusetts congressional delegation is urging the CEO of Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare to leave Texas to settle a nurses strike at Saint Vincent Hospital, signaling that calls to end the walkout are intensifying.

In a letter sent Oct. 20 to Tenet CEO Saum Sutaria, MD, the lawmakers expressed concerns about Worcester, Mass.-based Saint Vincent's failure to reach an agreement with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, as well as the loss of beds and reduced services at the hospital that have resulted from the strike. 

The lawmakers said they are "alarmed and dismayed" by Tenet's refusal to allow nurses to return to work in the roles they held prior to the strike. Tenet is the parent company of Saint Vincent.

"Tenet's approach violates long accepted standards for the conclusion of a work stoppage and jeopardizes the safety of the patients who will be subject to care from more inexperienced replacement staff," the lawmakers said in their letter to Dr. Sutaria. "Of more concern is Tenet's decision to purposefully close desperately needed beds and eliminate services."

The letter, signed by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Edward Markey, D-Mass.; U.S. Reps. James McGovern, D-Mass. and Lori Trahan, D-Mass., and others comes after Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty also called on Dr. Sutaria in September to visit Worcester to end the strike.

Saint Vincent nurses have been on strike since March 8, with the primary remaining issue being their demand to return to work in their previous roles. 

The hospital said all striking nurses who want to return to work will have a job to go back to, and it estimates that 85 percent of nurses will get to return to their former positions.

But the union has called the hospital's back-to-work provision unfair to nurses and said the hospital's "replacement of highly skilled nurses with lesser qualified staff would undermine all the patient safety gains the parties had negotiated."

The union also is demanding that complaints filed against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board — including one over the hospital's Oct. 17 decision to implement its "last, best and final offer" in negotiations — be resolved as a part of any deal to return to work.  

In response to the letter from lawmakers, the hospital told Becker's, "We have made our last, best and final offer and implemented it. We welcome back our nurses who wish to return to work."

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