Worcester mayor calls on Tenet CEO to visit from Texas to end nurses strike

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The mayor of Worcester, Mass., is asking the CEO of Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare to visit from Texas and negotiate an end to a nurses strike that began more than 200 days ago at Saint Vincent Hospital.

In his remarks Sept. 29, which were shared with Becker's, Joseph Petty cited a news conference held Sept. 18 about the increased number of residents contracting COVID-19, as well as a shortage of hospital beds and staff in Worcester to adequately meet patient demand.

He said the crisis continues, and the healthcare system and workers "are being pushed to the limits of their endurance." A major contributing cause of this crisis, he said, is the loss of needed beds and services and hundreds of nurses prevented from staffing those beds because of what is now the longest nurses strike in Massachusetts history.

"Let me be clear, this strike needs to end, and it needs to end now. Because the local leadership of the hospital seems incapable of negotiating an equitable end to the strike, I hereby call upon Saum Sutaria, MD, the corporate head of Tenet Healthcare in Dallas, to come to Worcester as soon as possible to negotiate in good faith," Mr. Petty said. "I am asking that he and the Tenet team work with our nurses to resolve all issues in this dispute, so we can address the needs of our community and end this crisis."

The mayor's comments come after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker urged the Massachusetts Nurses Association and hospital management to return to the bargaining table. Physicians who care for patients at Saint Vincent Hospital have also asked their nurse colleagues participating in the strike to end the walkout. Additionally, two Massachusetts legislators recently called on Saint Vincent CEO Carolyn Jackson to step aside from bargaining in the monthslong labor dispute.

The strike began March 8. The primary remaining issue is the nurses' demand that they return to work in their previous roles.

Saint Vincent, in a statement issued Sept. 29, blamed the union for being "unwilling to explore creative solutions and continue the dialogue."

"As long as the MNA refuses to compromise, it does not matter who is on the other side of the table," the hospital said. "In fact, the head of Tenet's workforce relations department and Tenet's chief nursing officer joined the bargaining team this summer and attended return to work sessions with the mediators and the union previously."

In a statement released Sept. 24, the union said nurses were ready to return to work weeks ago, when the union agreed to negotiate staffing improvements. But the hospital's "back-to-work" provision "is not only unfair to nurses, but its replacement of highly skilled nurses with lesser qualified staff would undermine all the patient safety gains the parties had negotiated," the union said.

Marie Ritacco, RN, vice president of the union, said the hospital is refusing to remove this roadblock and asked the governor to do whatever he can to break the impasse. 

The union also is demanding that complaints filed against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board be resolved as a part of any return-to-work agreement.  

Saint Vincent said hospital representatives are open to discussing the return-to-work issue but that it "cannot punish the nurses who worked diligently throughout the strike." The hospital is promising a job for every striking nurse who wants one and estimates that 85 percent of nurses will get their exact positions back.

Currently, 205 permanent replacement nurses are working at the hospital, and no additional talks are scheduled.

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