Nurses file 600+ staffing, safety complaints against Tenet hospital

Nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., have filed more than 600 complaints regarding staffing levels and patient safety since July — alleging the administration is in "blatant violation" of a contract that ended the longest nurse strike in state history.

The Massachusetts Nurse Association laid out the grievances in a Jan. 30 news release and shared seven of the complaints — raised to The Joint Commission, CMS, the state Department of Public Health's licensure and certification division, and the state Board of Registration in Nursing — with Becker's.  

In December 2021, nurses voted to ratify a new contract and end a 301-day strike. As part of the contract, the hospital's owner, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, agreed to update staffing practices. Per the new rules, nurses were limited to no more than four patient assignments on the cardiac postsurgical unit and no more than five patients on the behavioral health unit. The system also agreed to improvements in resource nurse assignment across multiple units.

But the ratios have not improved, according to the union, which said staffing levels have dropped and patient loads have increased since the hospital installed a new chief nursing officer, Denise Kvapil, MSN, BSN, on Dec. 1.

Since January, nurses have filed 102 reports detailing their concerns. They allege that most nights, only four or five nurses staff the emergency department, although their contract calls for at least 12. They claim that four nurses have been left to care for more than 100 patients in the emergency department; by national standards, their collective capacity would be 20 patients. 

Due to inadequate ratios, nurses say they have been unable to watch patients who need to be monitored, including those at risk of stroke, heart failure and suicide. In multiple documented instances, there has been no triage nurse on staff, though the hospital is a designated stroke center.

Tenet's practices have been "devastating by design," according to the union. The hospital once had more than 800 nurses but now staffs approximately 500, leaving 250 roles vacant. And although the system spent $5 million per week on travel labor during the strike, leadership allegedly told nurses contract help is no longer in the budget. 

The union alleges that Tenet will not hold regular meetings between nurses and management. In January, 27 nurses filed a complaint with the Board of Registration in Nursing alleging nursing administration had allowed inappropriate care conditions that "placed patients at risk." Subsequently, three ED nurses involved with the complaint were terminated and six nurses on other units — including the co-chair of the bargaining unit — were suspended without pay, the union said. 

The union has filed a charge of unfair labor practice against Tenet, seeking injunctive relief to reverse the terminations and suspensions. It is also preparing an official complaint against alleged retaliatory terminations under the state's whistleblower law, according to the release. 

Tenet has not returned Becker's requests for comment via email and voicemail. This story will be updated if more information becomes available.

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