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January 30, 2024

Union: Saint Vincent nurses have filed 600+ complaints over dangerous conditions, as staffing levels dropped 38%

Photo | Grant Welker Saint Vincent Hospital nurses picketing outside the Worcester hospital in the early days of the 300-day strike, which ended in January 2022.

The end of the 10-month strike involving nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester in January 2022 didn’t bring an end to disagreements over working conditions at the hospital, as the Massachusetts Nursing Association announced Tuesday it has filed a number of complaints to federal and state regulators over concerns the labor union has about the impact of low-staffing on the well-being of patients and nurses.

The complaints are based on hundreds of reports filed by nurses at the facility in the past six months, according to a press release issued by MNA. Nurses have filed more than 500 official reports regarding staffing and patient care conditions between July and December. An additional 102 reports have been filed in January, and nurses who have been involved in speaking out against conditions have faced retaliation and even termination, according to MNA.

Saint Vincent did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the announcement of these complaints by the MNA. 

“We are sickened to report, but find ourselves duty bound to do so, that the conditions documented in these complaints raise serious concerns about the safety of patient care at our hospital,” Marlena Pellegrino, co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the MNA, said in the press release. “As these complaints show, our administration has created an environment that too often violates the dignity of our patients and compromises our ability to meet accepted standards of patient care.”

The 10-month strike by the MNA at Saint Vincent in 2022 and 2023 largely centered on the issue of nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.

MNA says the hospital does not regularly staff intensive care units with enough nurses to provide an appropriate level of care to the hospital’s most critically ill patients. Complaints filed in December and January shared with WBJ include a number of examples where an alleged lack of staffing has led to patients being harmed, including an unwitnessed fall involving a patient and patients being left to lie in soiled bed sheets for extended periods of time. 

Nurses say the alleged understaffing of the hospital’s emergency department is perhaps their greatest area of concern, claiming the hospital has cut staffing by 50% on many nights, leading to the department being run with just four or five nurses. 

MNA says despite the fact national standards for emergency department care recommend a nurse be assigned no more than five patients at a time, Saint Vincent many days where nurses can have between 13 to 15 patients.

“The administration also staffs the emergency department, an area that calls for highly skilled and experienced nurses, with newly graduated nurses or novice nurses, in an understaffed environment where all the staff is overwhelmed, and there is no ability to support or mentor these nurses,” the MNA press release reads. 

MNA says the hospital once had more than 800 nurses, but that number is now down to around 500, with more than 250 pending vacancies.

The MNA has filed complaints with a number of regulators since December, including the U.S Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and The Joint Commission, a non-profit based in Illinois that accredates more than 22,000 healthcare organizations and programs around the world. 

The MNA claims three nurses in the emergency department involved in filing complaints regarding conditions were terminated as a result, with a further six nurses being suspended without pay. The suspended nurses include Dominique Muldoon, the co-chair of the bargaining unit at the hospital.

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