St. Vincent Hospital working conditions dangerous, nurses union says

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More than 600 complaints filed since July. Patient safety is at risk, according to nurses.

WORCESTER ― On the day that St. Vincent Hospital honored several employees for giving high-quality patient care, some nurses at the hospital filed hundreds of complaints with state and federal agencies about what they allege are dangerous working conditions that jeopardize patients’ safety. 

The complaints come two years after nurses and hospital management reached an agreement to end the longest nurses’ strike in state history, one that extended for more than 300 days. 

Chief Executive Officer Carolyn Jackson declined comment on the complaints moments after she handed out the employee-recognition awards in the hospital’s atrium Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Nurses Association said it’s “sickened” to have to file the complaints, but had to do it to protect patient safety.

“We are sickened to report, but find ourselves duty bound to do so, thatthe conditions documented in these complaints raise serious concerns about the safety of patient care at our hospital,” said a prepared statement by registered nurse Marlena Pellegrino, co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the Massachusetts Nurses Association.  

Of the more than 600 reports filed since July, one source of concern is staffing levels. A hospital staff of 800 was cut to 500 over the last two years, with more than 250 pending vacancies, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association. 

Management refuses to hire more expensive travel nurses to fill the gap, despite spending $5 million weekly on travel nurses during the 10-month strike, according to the state nurses association. Meanwhile, staff in the emergency department has been halved, according to nurses, from a contractual level of at least 12 on-duty nurses on most nights, to just four or five. 

The Telegram & Gazette reported last week that St. Vincent recently set a one-day record in its emergency room when it received 180 patients. The department’s average patient load is roughly 150.

Alleged punitive culture

Complaints also targeted hospital policies, allocation of technology and a “deliberately punitive management culture,” according to the state nurses association. Nurses claim the punitive culture resulted in dangerous delays in giving medicines and treatments, as well as preventable patient falls and deaths. 

Conditions worsened after Chief Executive Officer Carolyn Jackson hired Denise Kvapil as the hospital’s chief nursing officer, according to the nurses union. Kvapil cut staffing and hiked patient loads, moves that are a “blatant” violation of the nurses’ union contract that ended the previous strike, said nurses.

Three nurses in the emergency department were fired and six more in other departments were suspended without pay after complaints against St. Vincent were filed with the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing, according to the state nurses association. The association filed a charge of unfair labor practices and wants the terminations and suspensions reversed.

Nurse Dominique Muldoon said she has been suspended without pay since Jan. 15 after she spoke out about conditions in the hospital. Muldoon has worked at Saint Vincent for the past 24 years, and explained that she was maxed out with a number of patients that she could manage safely while her unit was understaffed. When asked to take on more patients, Muldoon said she wouldn’t do it because it would compromise safety, and that’s when she was suspended.

“Horrible” is how Muldoon described what is happening at Saint Vincent: “I’ve never seen it this bad.”

“I’m hoping somewhere, someone in charge takes a hard look at what’s going on, and puts the brakes on,” she said. “There needs to be a real effort to collaborate and work with nurses. We know how to do our jobs. That’s not the problem. We need resources to be able to do that.”

Agencies that received the complaints include the Department of Public Health Division of Healthcare Quality, The Joint Commission that accredits hospitals, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine. 

For-profit Tenet Healthcare based in Dallas reported $19.1 billion in revenues in calendar year 2022 and a gross profit of $15.9 billion, according to online reports. 

In last year’s third quarter from July through September, Tenet’s profit was $854 million, with a profit margin of 17%, according to the state nurses association.

Return to telegram.com for more on this developing story.

Contact Henry Schwan at [email protected]. Follow him on X: @henrytelegram.


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