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Nurses Strike at Mass. Hospital

April 1, 2000

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) _ Hundreds of nurses, some fresh from work with white uniforms and stethoscopes, went on strike Friday at St. Vincent Hospital, saying its big corporate owner wants to bolster profits at the expense of staff and patients.

``They’re looking at the numbers, they’re looking at the money, and we’re sick of it!″ said Judy Read, a 10-year nurse at the hospital. Her picket sign said: ``Corporate Greed Is to Blame.″

St. Vincent was once a nonprofit hospital run by the Roman Catholic church. It was sold to a national hospital chain in 1996 and to its current owner, Tenet Healthcare System, in 1997.

The hospital kept operating Friday with 64 non-striking regulars and 62 replacement nurses. State health regulators, who were monitoring to ensure safety, said those nurses were caring for 172 patients at the 329-bed hospital Friday.

The hospital had a pre-strike nursing staff of 535. It wasn’t immediately clear how many were striking, but the strike was authorized by a better than 2-to-1 margin.

Contract talks broke down Wednesday after two years of negotiations. They produced agreement on 3.5 percent annual raises but an impasse on mandatory overtime.

Managers say they need assurance they can staff the hospital in any contingency. The nurses say managers are really trying to avoid hiring additional staff.

Nurses launched the strike at an extraordinarily difficult moment for managers. They have been planning to move most hospital units, staff and patients Saturday into the new, $215 million Worcester Medical Center one mile away.

Managers vowed to make the move as planned. The hospital’s chief executive officer, Robert Maher Jr., has said that managers could hold out in a strike for months and that the hospital would be run safely.

``Patients themselves are concerned,″ said Paul Lauzon, a nurse from the cardiac unit who joined the picket line. ``They’re weeping. They’re very afraid. We’re all ready to cry our eyes out.″

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