Minnesota strike could mean 'Category 5 storm' for hospitals, group says

A second walkout by nurses in Minnesota could have significant financial effects on hospitals that exceed effects from a strike in September, the Star Tribune reported Dec. 3.

Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association plan to begin a strike Dec. 11 at 16 hospitals.

The strike affects about 15,000 nurses at 15 facilities run by Allina Health, HealthPartners, Essentia Health, Fairview Health Services, Children's Minnesota, North Memorial Health and St. Luke's. Nurses at St. Luke's Lake View Hospital in Two Harbors are also slated to join the 15,000 nurses in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports.

Union members are scheduled to begin striking at 7 a.m. Dec. 11. Nurses in the Twin Cities and at Essentia plan to strike through 7 a.m. Dec. 31, while nurses at St. Luke's in Duluth and at St. Luke's Lake View in Two Harbors have chosen an open-ended strike, the MNA said in a Dec. 1 news release.

The scheduled strike follows a three-day labor stoppage in September by 15,000 nurses in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports. The nurses authorized another strike Nov. 30.

Financial statements show that Minneapolis-based Allina Health spent about $23 million for replacement nurses and other costs related to the September strike, while Fairview Health spent $25 million and Children's Minnesota spent about $7 million, according to the Star Tribune. A prolonged second strike could cost Minnesota hospitals hundreds of millions of dollars, the newspaper reported.

"With the healthcare workforce shortages and with the financial crisis, the hospitals and health care systems are already in a Category 2 storm," said Rahul Koranne, MD, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association, told the Star Tribune, referring to hurricane classifications in his analogy. "If there is going to be a work stoppage, that has the potential to turn the current crisis into a Category 5 storm."

A prolonged second strike could still be averted if an agreement is reached. As of Dec. 2, St. Luke's in Duluth was "continuing negotiations with MNA and making meaningful progress," a spokesperson told Becker's. Allina Health also said the health system would negotiate again on Dec. 2. Additionally, the Twin Cities Hospitals Group — which includes Children's Minnesota, North Memorial Health, Fairview and HealthPartners Methodist Hospital — issued a statement Dec. 2 saying negotiators will be available to negotiate in good faith over the coming days to avert a strike.

Meanwhile, hospitals said they are fully preparing for a strike as demand for services increases amid surges of respiratory syncytial virus and flu combined with COVID-19.

The Twin Cities Hospitals Group said it may be necessary for hospitals to reschedule noncritical care procedures if a walkout occurs.

Children's, which operates hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Paul, stopped admitting patients to its new psychiatric unit in St. Paul on Dec. 3 and anticipates reducing intensive care capacity to 33 beds during the strike, according to the Star Tribune. The newspaper reported that decisions at other hospitals are pending as they work to determine recruitment of replacement nurses.

Both sides have expressed their desires to avert a strike.

During negotiations, staffing and wages have been key sticking points. Nurses' initial wage demands were 30 percent over three years, but that has dropped to 20 percent, according to the Star Tribune. The newspaper also reported that hospitals increased their offers from 10 percent to up to 15 percent. Regarding staffing, nurses continue to ask hospitals to automatically reevaluate nurse-to-patient ratios in certain units, according to the Star Tribune.

To read the full report, click here.

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