Nearly 2,000 workers at Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital begin strike

Citing concerns about staffing and patient care, nearly 2,000 hospital workers at Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital of Buffalo (N.Y.), went on strike Oct. 1, according to the union that represents them.

Communications Workers of America, which represents nurses, technologists, clerical staff and other service workers at the hospital, said there is a growing staffing crisis that its members want to see alleviated in new contracts. The union also represents workers at Catholic Health's Kenmore (N.Y.) Mercy Hospital and Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus, in Buffalo.   

"Our hospital, and the hospitals throughout the Catholic Health system, are dangerously understaffed," workers at Mercy Hospital wrote in an open letter to their patients and the Buffalo community published Oct. 1. "Every day, we are terrified of needless patient deaths in our hospital because we are stretched so thin."

They added, "We have bargained for months to achieve a contract agreement that will allow us to do our jobs properly, but Catholic Health has so far refused to agree to iron-clad safe staffing levels that will ensure your safety. We have concluded that only a strike will make Catholic Health understand that we must have guaranteed increased staff and improved compensation if we hope to provide the quality of care our community deserves."

In their letter, the workers said they do not want to see care disrupted but emphasized the need for a "contract that puts patient care first."

Catholic Health said Mercy Hospital, along with Kenmore Mercy Hospital and St. Joseph Campus, presented a $33 million economic package and a contract offer that included a $20 million investment in staffing.

But, according to Catholic Health, the union's bargaining committee walked out of negotiations Oct. 1 after failure to reach an agreement for contracts, and the strike began at Mercy Hospital.

"Unfortunately, Catholic Health had to assemble a multidisciplinary team made up of nurses, caregivers, physicians and administrative staff to put together a contingency plan to be prepared for an event like today," Mark Sullivan, president and CEO of Catholic Health, said in a news release Oct. 1. "We've implemented that plan to protect our community and the patients receiving care at Mercy Hospital today and for the duration of the strike."

Amid the labor dispute, Mercy Hospital has suspended inpatient nonemergency procedures and paused labor and delivery services. The system on Sept. 29 also began diverting ambulances from Mercy Hospital and its Mercy Ambulatory Care Center in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Labor and delivery patients are being directed to locations outside Mercy Hospital, including Kaleida's Oishei Children’s Hospital, which has launched a comprehensive plan to address the anticipated increase of volume, according to a news release from Buffalo-based Kaleida Health.

"We have been monitoring the Mercy Hospital strike situation very closely for the past 48 hours and we have responded accordingly as we continue to see additional patient volumes here," Michael Hughes, senior vice president and chief administrative officer for Kaleida Health, said in the Oct. 1 release. "As far as impact, in the past 24 hours alone we have seen an increase in labor and delivery cases at Oishei Children's Hospital as well as cardiac and stroke cases at the Gates Vascular Institute."

Mr. Hughes added that ambulance traffic at Buffalo General Medical Center was extremely high Sept. 30 and is expected to climb more Oct. 1. He said emergency room volumes are up the past two days "but remain manageable — for the time being — at Buffalo General Medical Center, Oishei Children's Hospital, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and DeGraff Medical Park."

Kaleida Health said it also has opened its corporate command center to help with the continued increase in emergency room volumes, wait times and stress on bed availability.

Communications Workers of America represents more than 2,500 front-line workers at Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital, Kenmore (N.Y.) Mercy Hospital and Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus, in Buffalo. Workers at Mercy Hospital voted Sept. 9 to authorize a strike and issued a strike notice Sept. 21. 

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