Dozens of Worcester area community members took part in a noon car caravan rally around St. Vincent's Hospital Monday to protest plans by its owner to furlough nurses and cut some hospital staff.
Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association issued a statement Sunday criticizing Tenet Healthcare, for seeking voluntary nurse furloughs in the middle of a surge in the COVID-19 crisis in Massachusetts.
“The decision comes as nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) and other staff at St. Vincent Hospital have been working to care for a significant number of COVID-19 patients at the hospital," the statment said, "and Massachusetts has the sixth highest population of COVID-19 patients in the nation.”
Rally organizer and Worcester resident Martha Assefa says she uses St. Vincent Hospital when she’s sick and says the protest couldn’t come at a worse time for nearby residents.
“I think we need to speak up because we want to make sure our hospitals are as staffed as possible,” Assefa said, “and that the superheroes on the front line of this crisis have the support and staffing that they need.”
Carolyn Jackson, the CEO of St. Vincent’s Hospital, issue a video-taped response to all SVA employees and medical staff Sunday night.
“We have been acutely impacted by a decline in surgeries and other medical care. You know firsthand, as you walk through the halls and see departments, like this one [an endoscopy unit], largely sitting idle,” Jackson said.
Registered Nurse Marlena Pellegrino, who has worked at St. Vincent's for 33 years, said reducing staff will negatively impact patient care.
“There's no reason for Tenet to be looking to save money during a pandemic that is going on,” she said.
The MNA had gone back and forth the previous week with Tenet, which had threatened to implement a mandatory furlough that included the right to cancel and reduce staff on a daily basis.
The association said an infusion of $800 million dollars in aid from the state to its healthcare industry should eliminate the need for any furloughs.
“Tenet’s decision demonstrates their true intent all along,” Pellegrino said, “which is to cut staff to increase profits while patients could be suffering and dying waiting for our care.”
CEO Jackson announced more than 50 nurses volunteered for furloughs and that they weren’t mandatory. The furloughed nurses were redeployed, which allowed the hospital to redirect resources to COVID-19 care units and shift valuable PPE to vital areas of the hospital.
“My job is to keep our doors open, preserve services, continue to invest in our important life-safety infrastructure during this crisis, support our community, and come through the other side to position ourselves to repay many of those loans quickly.”