In a disturbing trend of recent decades, struggling Catholic hospitals have been acquired by for-profit operators. In these hospitals, unions are doubly important, because they frequently represent the only protection of patient care standards from corporate cost-cutters seeking to enhance profits.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association reports that this is the situation at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester. Some 800 nurses walked out on strike on March 8 after owner Tenet refused their demand for safer nurse to patient staffing ratios in the ER.
“We are only asking them for the same staffing level at U. Mass Memorial,” said recovery room nurse and MNA Vice President Marie Ritacco, referring to the nearby nonprofit that operates two area hospitals. “No nurse in the ER or Inpatient department should be caring for more than four patients, but Tenet wants them to take care of five, even after slashing support staff like CNAs.”
Hospitals like St Vincent’s, usually founded by Catholic religious orders for charitable purposes, have consented to purchase by for-profit health operators in order to secure capital for modernization. This puts them in the difficult position of trying to please shareholders with health returns while pursuing their mission – a recipe for conflict.
The nurses have been on the picket line for weeks but say they are undaunted. “We are going to make St. Vincent Hospital a safe place for care again,” said Ritacco.