Replacing striking Massachusetts nurses 'necessary,' not punitive, Tenet CEO tells lawmakers

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Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., released a response from Tenet Healthcare CEO Saumya Sutaria, MD, to a recent letter from a Massachusetts congressional delegation urging him to leave Texas to settle a nurses strike at the Tenet-affiliated hospital.

The delegation of elected officials included U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Edward Markey, D-Mass.; U.S. Reps. James McGovern, D-Mass; Lori Trahan, D-Mass., and others.

In an Oct. 22 letter, Dr. Sutaria addressed the decision to bring in replacement workers during the strike, a sticking point in the negotiations.

"Bringing in permanent replacement nurses, while certainly not our first choice, was a necessary step to ensure continuity of care and to preserve access to the most critical services for our community," Dr. Sutaria stated.

Tenet's CEO stated that national labor law allows employers to hire permanent replacement workers and contends it has been transparent, open and honest about its plan to do so.

The lawmakers, in their letter Oct. 20, said they were "alarmed and dismayed" by Tenet's refusal to allow nurses to return to work in the roles they held prior to the strike. Dr. Sutaria said Tenet "made it clear at the time that once a striking nurse's position was permanently filled, that nurse would not have the right to return to their exact position when the strike ends." 

The hospital estimates that 85 percent of striking nurses will get to return to their former positions.

Dr. Sutaria's letter also addressed lawmakers' concerns about Saint Vincent's decision to close some beds and services, a move the lawmakers called "a punitive ploy to force the nurses to end their strike."

He stated that the service reductions "were an incredibly difficult decision directly resulting from the unnecessarily prolonged strike and the lack of sufficient staffing to cover the requirements appropriately."

Saint Vincent nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association have been on strike since March 8. It has called the hospital's back-to-work provision unfair to nurses and said its "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.  

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