Doctors at a Massachusetts hospital where hundreds of nurses have been on strike since early March are asking them to return to work to help deal with a surge of COVID-19 patients that has led to longer wait times at all the region's medical facilities.
Physicians affiliated with St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester sent a letter to the nurses' union Wednesday, the day before the strike reached its 200th day, The Telegram & Gazette reported.
“With the recent elevation of the COVID-19 status in our area to Level 3, long wait times at all area hospitals, and the need to have all beds staffed and open, we all need to be there for our patients, now more than ever,” wrote Dr. Bogdan Nedelescu, president of St. Vincent Hospital Medical Staff, which represents all of the more than 600 physicians affiliated with the hospital.
Marie Ritacco, a St. Vincent nurse and vice president of the union, said that the roughly 700 striking nurses want to return to work but that the doctors should be appealing to St. Vincent CEO Carolyn Jackson.
St. Vincent, owned by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, reduced its bed capacity in August in response to the strike, which started March 8 over staffing levels. The sticking point now is over whether striking nurses can get their jobs back. The hospital said it does not want to displace the permanent replacements it has hired.
“We need your skills, compassion, camaraderie, and renewed commitment to provide the high quality care we have always delivered and is expected from our patients,” the doctors' letter said. “A resolution is so close at hand, and we know you share our common goal of serving the greater good in this community.”
Jackson placed blame on the Massachusetts Nurses Association union.
“It’s no surprise that the MNA would rather deflect than take responsibility for their role in prolonging this strike," she said in a statement. “Here are the facts: The MNA essentially agreed to our last, best and final offer, but they walked out of our last meeting when we refused to displace nurses that were hired for permanent replacement roles."
The hospital has reached out to the union several times, to no avail, she said.
The doctors' plea came just days after the president of UMass Memorial Health — also based in Worcester — urged a resolution to the strike because of a “crisis situation” due to the coronavirus and reduced bed capacity.