Nurses' strike, delta strain staffing at UMass Memorial Medical Center

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Worcester, Mass.-based UMass Memorial Medical Center is grappling with staffing strain caused by a monthslong nurses' strike, a COVID-19 surge fueled by the delta variant and a labor shortage.

The hospital said the number of COVID-positive patients increased from 35 to 54 in less than a week, Spectrum News 1 reported Sept. 14. Across the four-hospital UMass Memorial Health system, the largest health system in Central Massachusetts, there are 70 COVID-positive patients.

Along with the COVID-19 pandemic is a labor shortage. UMass Memorial Health system has about 15,000 employees, and about 700 positions are open systemwide, including 430 open positions at UMass Memorial Medical Center, Paul Judd, vice president of talent acquisition at the system, told Becker's. He said exacerbating this is that 600 to 700 employees are on leave at any time. As of Sept. 15, there are 41 COVID-positive employees. 

Additionally, nurses at Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare's Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester have been striking since March 8. 

"We have a unique situation in that we are experiencing increasing COVID positive numbers in Central Massachusetts, along with a labor shortage, combined with … beds being closed at Saint Vincent hospital in Worcester due to an ongoing labor dispute. We end up having additional patients due to those bed closures," said Mr. Judd. 

As a result of the labor dispute between the hospital and Massachusetts Nurses Association, Saint Vincent said it needed to close 111 beds, but anticipates being able to open more and restore much-needed inpatient capacity to Central Massachusetts once the strike ends. Hospital and union representatives called upon each other to help end the strike.

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