Negotiations between nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital and hospital owner Tenet Healthcare ended Tuesday with no clear resolution in sight, as a federal mediator offered to step aside and move talks to Washington, D.C.
Nurses began striking on March 8 to demand a staffing increase at the Worcester hospital, which last week said it would make major cuts to services, including 30 percent of its medical and surgical capacity and 25 percent of its critical care beds.
The Massachusetts Nursing Association, which represents the 700 nurses on strike, said the mediator offered to bring negotiations before the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service after ending Tuesday’s session, according to union spokesman David Schildmeier.
“Very often this is a strategy that’s used to break a logjam or smooth things over,” he said. “We totally accept and embrace it, anything we can do to get this settled so these nurses can get back in the building.”
A hospital spokesman said the union had canceled Tuesday’s talks and that moving negotiations to Washington was not necessary.
“This is a local issue best resolved right here in Central Massachusetts with those closest to the community and to the issues,” hospital officials said in a statement. “The hospital has a generous offer on the table and is very close to its final position.”
The union “canceled the session before the parties even had a chance to meet,” the statement continued. “It is not true that the mediator ended negotiations — the MNA ended negotiations.”
Schildmeier the union was “following the instructions and directions of the mediator” who proposed a new mediator in hopes of breaking the impasse.
The union is happy to continue negotiations at a local level if Tenet rejects a new mediator, he said. But nurses will not accept a deal that fails to include the staff increases the union has pushed for, he said.
“The longer this has gone on, the nurses have been more adamant that they’re not going to go back for half a loaf,” he said. “They went out because they were going home sometimes in tears, feeling as if they had let down their patients because they didn’t provide the care they needed. They’re not about to go back in without improvement.”
Wednesday will mark the 150th day of the strike, the second-longest in state history and the longest nurses strike nationally in more than 15 years. On Monday, Tenet presented a “disappointing” proposal that members “voiced strong opposition to” at the meeting, the union said.
Tenet, one of the largest health systems in the country by revenue and number of hospitals, has come under criticism for allegedly mishandling COVID-19 hospital relief money. In June, Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey questioned the company’s use of taxpayer funds to “enrich its executives and shareholders rather than meet the needs of its health care workers and patients.”
”The apparent greed of Tenet Healthcare during an unprecedented public health emergency and economic crisis is astounding, particularly in light of the billions in taxpayer assistance received by your company, and the ongoing failure to address the concerns of its frontline health care workers,” they wrote.