By Vincent Cross
On Monday morning, hundreds of nurses gathered outside St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts to officially mark the beginning of their strike for better working conditions and increased staffing levels. The nurses have been demanding increased staffing levels and a lower patient-nurse ratio for years, and last month they overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike if management continued to refuse to meet their demands.
Passing cars honked in support along the picket line, and both Teamsters Local 170 and Education Association of Worcester sent dozens of members out in support of the nurses.
Nurses at St. Vincent’s, like many others across the country, are overworked and deal with intentionally low staffing levels that lead to nurses having to pick and choose which patients they can provide adequate care for, providing less attention to other patients.
“We all have so many patients to take care and it’s gotten to the point that we cannot take the time to help physically immobile and disabled patients go to the bathroom and have to provide them with adult diapers instead,” one nurse told Tribune.
Other patients have received their medications later than prescribed or have fallen down and hurt themselves due to these low staffing levels.
St. Vincent’s, which is managed by the Texas-based corporation Tenant Healthcare, runs on a ‘flexible scheduling’ model which only requires the minimum number of medical staff be kept on call at any given time. Nurses’ shifts are often canceled hours before they begin because management deems them to be ‘excess.’ This model leaves no room for surges in demand or unexpected emergencies, leading to poor quality of care and dangerous conditions for patients.
The ‘flexible’ model allows for the hospital to maintain a much higher patient-nurse ratio than is technically allowed in the current contract. In statements, St. Vincent Hospital CEO Carolyn Jackson has said she is “disappointed” that “our nurses chose to walk out and go on strike in the midst of a global pandemic” and has attempted to divide nurses by thanking the “bravery” of those nurses who crossed the picket lines in defiance of “union intimidation tactics.”
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