8 nurses file wrongful termination suit against Tenet

Eight nurses at Worcester, Mass.-based Saint Vincent Hospital have filed a lawsuit against the facility and its owner, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, alleging they were wrongfully terminated after raising concerns about staffing shortages and care quality. 

The nurses are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which shared the full complaint with Becker's March 21. The lawsuit cites the Commonwealth's whistleblower law, which protects nurses from retaliation for disclosing or threatening to disclose a "reasonable [belief]" that their employer is violating a law, rule or regulation that poses a risk to public health. 

The lawsuit is the latest installment in a lengthy dispute between Saint Vincent Hospital and its nurses. Since July 2023, nurses have filed more than 600 complaints with state and federal agencies, alleging that the hospital is not complying with previously established nurse staffing guidelines and is therefore providing substandard care. 

The lawsuit alleges that there have been nursing staffing shortages for more than a year, and that sometimes, one nurse will assume a 20-patient assignment. It also recounts incidents of patients left unattended in emergency department hallways and left to sit in their own urine and feces for extended periods of time. According to the lawsuit, the staffing shortages have delayed care and timely transfers, and "when the plaintiff nurses objected to providing unsafe care, SVH and Tenet fired them."

A spokesperson for the hospital has not returned Becker's request for comment on the litigation, but in a February statement on the hundreds of complaints filed against the hospital, Tenet alleged the union's claims were "unfounded" and accused it of "organizing publicity stunts, spreading false rumors and intimidating our leadership."   

During a February on-site review, The Joint Commission did find the hospital to be noncompliant with certain CMS standards, though the organization would not share the full report publicly. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health also conducted an on-site review, and, according to Saint Vincent Hospital, ruled that five of six nurse claims it investigated were "unsubstantiated"; however, the department later told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that the investigation is ongoing, and no conclusions can be drawn yet. 

The nurses' lawsuit, filed in Worcester Superior Court, seeks an order of reinstatement to return the plaintiffs to their former positions with full benefits and seniority; reasonable legal costs; a permanent injunction to restrain continued violations of the whistleblower law; and "any other relief the Court deems just and appropriate." 

"These nurses, who we are referring to as 'the St. Vincent 8,' are true heroes and represent the canaries in the dark mine shaft that is for-profit healthcare," said Katie Murphy, RN, president of the MNA, in a news release shared with Becker's.

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