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After the striking members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association union on Thursday rejected what Saint Vincent Hospital officials framed as their best and final offer, the Worcester healthcare provider on Sunday announced it would permanently fill the remaining open positions vacated by the 800 union nurses.
In May, Saint Vincent said it would begin permanently hiring replacements for the MNA members who hadn't crossed the picket line in the now five-month-long strike. At the time, Saint Vincent said if the strike ended, any nurse whose position was filled would be given preferential hiring treatment when vacancies did arise.
On Sunday, Saint Vincent said it has hired replacements for more than 100 striking nurses and another 38 were in the hiring process. Together with union nurses who crossed the picket line, Saint Vincent has more than 200 nurses employed at the hospital, as of Sunday.
“We are enthused by the continued interest of applicants for all our nursing positions and are focused on continuing to deliver the quality care we are known for," Saint Vincent CEO Carolyn Jackson said in a press release. “I want to express my sincere appreciation for all caregivers, especially the Saint Vincent nurses who put our patients first by crossing the MNA’s picket line, for their courage and resilience.”
The main sticking point in the MNA strike has been over the patient-to-nurse staffing ratios at Saint Vincent. The MNA has been trying to lower the ratios at Massachusetts hospitals for several years, most notably with a 2018 ballot initiative, which was defeated at the polls after the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association heavily campaigned against the measure.
On Thursday, Saint Vincent put forth what it termed as its "last, best, and final" offer to the nurses, which included the offer to hire more nurses in certain departments, as well as raises and benefit increases for all MNA nurses. At the time, the hospital, which is owned by Dallas for-profit provider Tenet Healthcare, didn't specify what the repercussions would be if the union rejected that offer.
The union rejected the offer the same day.
In its announcement Sunday saying it would begin posting the rest of the striking nurses’ positions over the next few days, Saint Vincent said it doesn't see the value in continuing any mediation with the union, although it would consider any response the union has to the latest offer from the hospital.
“We don’t believe Tenet’s claim regarding their hiring of replacement nurses, as this is just another in a series of cynical and reprehensible ploys by this multi-billion dollar corporation to intimidate the nurses, instead of engaging in a good faith negotiation with the nurses, as was recommended last week, to provide the staffing levels the nurses to need to protect their patients to end this strike," MNA spokesman David Schildmeier said. "Tenet has spend in excess of $100 million to force and prolong this strike to avoid accountability for providing the level of care patients of Worcester expect and deserve. Instead of making false claims about hiring nurses to replace the nurses, they should be doing everything they can to get the 700 dedicated nurses outside that hospital back into that building, nurses who have served that community for more the last 40 years with care and distinction. We urge Tenet to stop the posturing and start negotiating."
On July 28, Saint Vincent announced it would scale back certain services, blaming the ongoing strike. The changes included a reduction of 80 staffed inpatient beds, eight procedural rooms, and closing certain outpatient services, including cardiac rehab and wound care. Inpatient bed cuts included two medical/surgical units, one progressive care unit, and 10 inpatient psychiatry beds.
At the same time, the hospital said it would postpone a variety of projects, including adding a linear accelerator, advancing gastro-intestinal capabilities, upgrading PET/CT technology and expansion of behavioral health staffing. In June, the hospital announced it would also delay updating its medical records system until early 2022.