Nurses Filed 500+ Complaints Over ‘Dangerous Conditions’ At This Hospital


 
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                                                     By Susannah Sudborough

Nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester have filed official complaints with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and other state agencies over “dangerous conditions” they say are jeopardizing patient safety, the state’s largest nurse’s union announced Tuesday.

The complaints are based on over 500 reports made by nurses over the last six months that detail issues such as staffing deficiencies and poor allocation of technology, said the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), which represents the nurses.

The reports — over 100 of which were filed in January 2024 — also describe “a deliberately punitive management culture” that is causing delays in delivering patients’ medications and treatments, preventable patient falls and even preventable patient deaths.

By allowing these problems to persist, the union claims, Tenet Healthcare — the Dallas-based health care company which runs Saint Vincent — has violated state patient care standards.

“We are sickened to report, but find ourselves duty bound to do so, that the conditions documented in these complaints raise serious concerns about the safety of patient care at our hospital,” said Marlena Pellegrino, a nurse at the hospital and an MNA representative. “As these complaints show, our administration has created an environment that too often violates the dignity of our patients and compromises our ability to meet accepted standards of patient care.”

Tenet Healthcare did not respond to a request for comment on the union’s allegations.

How the hospital got to this point

Nurses have been concerned about conditions at Saint Vincent for years. But the situation became worse over the past year after a new chief nursing officer “implemented a concerted campaign to cut staffing levels and increase nurses’ patient loads in blatant violation of the nurses’ union contract.”

Notably, the contract ended a 10-month-long nurses’ strike orchestrated by the MNA that ended in early 2022.

The hospital’s emergency department is the nurses’ greatest concern. Despite the new contract requiring that at least 12 nurses to be on duty at all times, the hospital cut over half the department’s nursing staff, often leaving just four or five nurses on a night shift to handle a “busy, urban” emergency department, the union said.

Nurses in the department are often responsible for as many as 15 patients at a time, even when patients are critically ill, need constant monitoring or have behavioral problems, the union said. Additionally, there is often no nurse available to triage patients.

How patient care has been affected

The MNA provided several examples of the impacts that understaffing has had on patients. In one example, a patient who needed heart monitoring was admitted to Saint Vincent even though the hospital didn’t have any monitors available.

“The resolution presented by hospital administrators was ‘hoping that patients would be discharged’” so that the new patient could be given a monitor, the union said. In the meantime, the admitting doctor was told to cancel the order for the monitor.

In another example, an ICU nurse was assigned a new patient even though she was currently holding pressure on another patient’s bleeding artery.

In many of the reports, nurses said they were so busy that bed alarms and call bells went unanswered. This resulted in patients not receiving their medications on time, going unwashed and becoming at risk of getting bed sores.

“Numerous nurses reported patients left to lie in their own urine and feces for extended periods of time,” they claimed.

Hospital leaders’ response to concerns

It has been claimed that hospital administrators have also failed to adequately respond to nurses’ safety concerns. According to the union, Saint Vincent currently has more than 250 open nurse positions.

“While nurses struggle every day to keep their patients safe, Tenet management refuses to engage in any meaningful effort to recruit and retain needed nursing staff,”. “Nurses who are recruited to the facility, particularly newly graduated nurses, end up leaving their positions, many before they even finish their orientation.”

Moreover, the nurses who raise concerns have been met with retaliation and have had their union rights violated. The union claims that three such nurses were fired and six others were put on leave without pay this month. As such, the MNA has also filed an unfair labor practice charge against Tenet and is asking that the nurses be reinstated.

The union is set to hold a rally outside of its Worcester office on Wednesday during which it will provide further details and updates on the situation at Saint Vincent.


 
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