The company that owns St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester says it will replace hundreds of nurses that have been on strike since March.
On Sunday, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare said it had recently hired 100 replacement nurses. And this week, it plans to post a few hundred more job openings to try to fill the void created after more than 700 nurses went on strike to demand higher staffing levels.
The move comes just a couple of days after Tenet conveyed what it and St. Vincent CEO Carolyn Jackson call their "last, best and final offer" to the nurses, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
"We are done negotiating," Jackson said in a phone interview with WBUR on Sunday. "We're happy to listen to their response to it, and we hope that response is, 'We're going to take this to a vote of our membership.' "
Dominique Muldoon, who is co-chair of the nurses' bargaining unit, called the announcement a scare tactic.
"All the hospitals in the area are competing over nurses," Muldoon said. "If they were going to replace us, I think it would've happened back in May when they said they were going to replace us."
Last month, the hospital announced that it would be scaling back services and reducing capacity because it is short-staffed.
While both sides have said they have the best interest of patients in mind, the crux of the disagreement remains the appropriate level of staffing.
In the months leading up to the strike, Muldoon said, "Nurses in our hospital were going home every night night, pretty much crying in their cars, trying to overcompensate to take care of the patients we have." The workload was too much, she said, which made things less safe for patients.
Jackson said the pandemic has left many hospital workers feeling overwhelmed, but that St. Vincent's staffing levels were in line with its previous collective bargaining agreement. Additionally, in a statement, Tenet Healthcare said its staffing levels were on par with its peers in the area, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Tufts Medical Center.
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Muldoon said the union wants to see the negotiation continue with help from a federal mediator. And although Jackson said she would be willing to hear the union's response to the latest offer, she insisted that it would not change.
According to Jackson, the offer, if agreed to, would raise pay for all nurses, lower the patient-to-nurse ratio for various units, and add more nurses to the hospital's intensive care and surge units.
"What we have offered is more than fair," Jackson said. "In fact, I would call it generous."