Mass. Nurses Association & St. Vincent Hospital Nurses File Official Complaint with DPH Calling for Investigation into Incidents of Patient Dumping by Tenet Healthcare and Two Sentinel Events at the Facility Following the CEO's Decision to Close Beds and Services in Early August and to Staff the Hospital with Inexperienced Replacements

Complaint filed after striking nurses found three fragile patients in need of care outside the hospital's emergency department over the course of one weekend
Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 10:15 AM AKDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2021 at 9:42 AM AKDT

WORCESTER, Mass., Oct. 26, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), which represents the 700 striking nurses at St. Vincent Hospital, has filed an official complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) calling for an immediate investigation into a "troubling trend of potential patient dumping…" that "put patients at serious risk for harm and affect the health and safety of patients."  It also calls on the DPH to investigate two sentinel events (instances where serious harm was caused due to inadequate patient care) that have been reported to the nurses from staff inside the hospital since the hospital CEO decided to close desperately needed beds and services in what appears to be part of a strategy to break the nurses' strike.

Massachusetts Nurse Association (PRNewsFoto/Massachusetts Nurses Association)...
Massachusetts Nurse Association (PRNewsFoto/Massachusetts Nurses Association) (PRNewsfoto/Massachusetts Nurses Association)

The complaint was generated by the MNA after striking nurses responded to three incidents over the course of one weekend (the weekend of Oct. 16), where the picketing nurses responded to the needs "of individuals who appeared to be unattended or recently discharged from St. Vincent Hospital in various states of compromise."

One of those incidents was documented in a photo featured in an article about the strike, showing striking nurse Patricia Warman providing aide and comfort to an obviously distressed patient, lying on the ground outside the hospital's emergency department entrance.  As documented in the complaint, the patient was unable to stand. The nurse proceeded to contact hospital security "multiple times to no avail at which point the nurse called 911 twice with no immediate response.  Only after enlisting assistance from other striking nurses in an attempt to transport the patient somewhere for help did someone from the hospital come out to indicate that they had called the patient a cab. This response is concerning given the apparent altered state of the patient.  To put that patient in a cab without first reassessing their status in light of their apparent inability to stand and disoriented status potentially put the patient at risk for harm."

As stated in the complaint, the following day, "a female patient who still wore a hospital gown and hospital ID bracelet was found wandering on the sidewalk outside of the emergency room without shoes. The patient was disoriented but indicated that she was discharged and waiting for a cab but had no money. The nurses alerted hospital security who did not make themselves available to render assistance. As a result, the nurses flagged a passing police officer to assist the patient. The police escorted the patient back to the emergency department."

The complaint highlights a common denominator for all three cases and the hospital's legal accountability for providing care to these patients: "the patients are under resourced, physically fragile, and lacking agency and voice…more importantly because of this the hospital has an obligation to ensure that these patients are properly assessed, stabilized and discharged in an appropriately safe manner irrespective of their insurance status or resources."

The complaint also calls on DPH to investigate reports of serious incidents the nurses have received "from inside the hospital about poor patient care and patient neglect as a result of inadequate and incompetent replacement staff. Most recently, we have received highly credible reports of two sentinel events that have occurred at the hospital since the CEO closed beds and services and has insisted on placing novice nurses in positions they are ill prepared for with little or no support of safety structures in place."

"It breaks our hearts to see what little value Tenet places on the lives of the patients under their care and the damage they are doing to our community by their willful negligence and their desire to make our patients suffer in their effort to retaliate against the 700 nurses who are only exercising our legal right to advocate for our patients and to ensure they receive care and dignity they deserve," said Marlena Pellegrino, RN, longtime nurse at the facility and co-chair the St. Vincent nurses local bargaining unit with MNA. "Even while on strike, it is the real nurses of St. Vincent Hospital who were there for these vulnerable patients. Now it is time for Tenet to end this crisis, to provide an equitable settlement so we can return to providing care inside at the bedside and not on the sidewalk outside."

The nurses are not alone in calling out Tenet for its behavior in recent weeks.  Last week the entire Congressional Delegation signed a letter to Tenet's CEO calling out Tenet for its attack on the nurses and its endangerment of the community, demanding that Sutaria come to Worcester to ensure an equitable end to the crisis that Tenet has created.

"We are alarmed and dismayed by Tenet's efforts to prolong this crisis with their demand that nurses be denied a return to the positions they held, many of them for decades, prior to the strike. Tenet's approach violates long accepted standards for the conclusion of a work stoppage and jeopardizes the safety of the patients who will be subject to care from more inexperienced replacement staff," the lawmakers wrote. "Of more concern is Tenet's decision to purposefully close desperately needed beds and eliminate services as a punitive ploy to force the nurses to end their strike, using patients and our communities as pawns in their anti-union strategy."

Also this month, Mayor Joe Petty and City Councilor and Chair of Public Health Sarai Rivera held a press conference supporting the St. Vincent nurses' position and calling out Tenet for their efforts to endanger the community, where the Mayor stated, "Tenet Healthcare is demanding that these nurses end this strike with no guarantee that they will retain their previous positions or a commitment that they can return to work without fear of retaliation. These demands are unprecedented and violate the standard practice in any and all strikes and the high labor standards that we expect from all employers in our city. The demand put upon them by the hospitals corporate owners is not only unjust, it is detrimental to the safe restoration of services for our community. I want Tenet to know that we will not allow Worcester to be a testing ground for the imposition of unprecedented labor practices that harm unions and all workers. And when it comes to our nurses, who have given so much to us for so many years, I want Tenet to know that we in Worcester believe that they are irreplaceable."

Last month the nurses concerns about poor patient care conditions inside the hospital were validated by two powerful letters from the unions -- UFCW 1445 and Teamsters Local 170 --  representing most of the caregivers still working inside St. Vincent Hospital who place the blame for poor conditions inside the hospital, and the crisis outside the hospital on Tenet, and fully support the nurses call for a return to the positions they held prior to the strike.

The local media has also documented poor conditions throughout seven month strike, including a scathing news report detailing heart-wrenching stories by patients and staff inside the hospital about deplorable patient care and the lack of safe and compassionate care being provided by the replacement nurses hired by Tenet to work during the strike.

The strike by the St. Vincent nurses, which began on March 8, followed more than 18 months of negotiations and advocacy by the nurses to convince their CEO Carolyn Jackson that conditions for patients were patently unsafe and needed to be improved to protect their patients and stem the mass exodus of nurses, after more than 100 nurses left the facility largely due to the deplorable working conditions. The strike followed a year of great sacrifice and courageous service by the nurses during the pandemic, as they worked tirelessly to care for patients with inadequate staffing conditions and the required personal protective equipment (some nurses resorted to wearing trash bags after Tenet failed to provide appropriate protective gowns), resulting in hundreds of the nurses becoming infected with the virus themselves.

Back in August, after four days of negotiations, the nurses had agreed to staffing improvements negotiated throughout the strike and were ready to return to work to provide care, particularly during the current surge caused by the Delta variant, yet a final agreement was scuttled by Tenet when they demanded the nurses accept an unprecedented and punitive back to work provision that 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 hospital's proposal also called for the nurses to retract all the unfair labor practice charges, opening the door for Tenet to continue its efforts to retaliate against the striking nurses. The nurses are clear that any negotiated Return to Work Agreement must also include a negotiated resolution of any and all unfair labor practice charges the nurses have filed.

As the strike continues, the nurses continue their effort to hold Tenet accountable for their actions and have filed a total of eleven unfair labor practices against the corporation for its actions prior to and throughout the strike including making unlawful threats against striking nurses, retaliation and discrimination towards striking nurses, promises of benefits to non-strikers, and bad faith bargaining tactics, all designed to break the strike and to remove MNA as the nurses' bargaining agent. This conduct has greatly disturbed the nurses, who are now demanding that any return-to-work agreement must also include resolution of the unfair labor practices and the conduct underlying them.

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Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.

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