Saint Vincent Hospital Releases Response to Letter from Elected Officials
Rapid response demonstrates Hospital’s commitment to continued transparency
Worcester, MA – October 23, 2021 – Saint Vincent Hospital released a response from Tenet Health Chief Executive Officer Saumya Sutaria, M.D., to a recent letter from a delegation of elected officials representing Massachusetts. The delegation included Senators Warren and Markey, and Representatives McGovern, Trahan, Lynch, Clark, Moulton, Auchincloss, Pressley, Keating, and Neal.
The response was released to the public as part of Saint Vincent Hospital’s continued commitment to transparency during the prolonged strike by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA).
In the letter, Tenet Health reiterated its openness to dialogue and provided important information about Saint Vincent Hospital’s ongoing hiring of permanent replacement nurses. The company cited the law that enables employers to hire permanent replacement workers and the decades of precedent upholding that law. Tenet also outlined the months-long process Saint Vincent Hospital used to notify the MNA while they hired the permanent replacement nurses.
The company also respectfully responded to concerns expressed regarding the Hospital’s decision to close a number of beds and services resulting from both the strike and nationwide staffing challenges.
There continues to be respectful engagement between Saint Vincent Hospital and the delegation, and Tenet remains supportive of Saint Vincent Hospital’s commitment to providing excellent care to Central Massachusetts.
A copy of the letter is below.
October 22, 2021
Senator Elizabeth Warren
Senator Edward Markey
Representative James McGovern
Representative Lori Trahan
Representative Stephen Lynch
Representative Katherine Clark
Representative Seth Moulton
Representative Jake Auchincloss
Representative Ayanna Pressley
Representative William R. Keating
Representative Richard E. Neal
Dear Senators Warren and Markey and Representatives McGovern, Trahan, Lynch, Clark, Moulton, Auchincloss, Pressley, Keating, and Neal:
Thank you for your letter concerning the nurses strike at Saint Vincent Hospital (SVH), which was received on October 20. We appreciate your concern and remain open to input that will help to resolve this matter. Indeed, the fact that Tenet affiliated hospitals have reached more than 30 contract settlements with other unions since January of 2020 proves that we have the willingness to compromise on reasonable terms.
We respect our nurses’ right to strike, but we have a responsibility to our community to ensure that we can continue to deliver the high quality of care for which we are known. Bringing in permanent replacement nurses, while certainly not our first choice, was a necessary step to ensure continuity of care and to preserve access to the most critical services for our community
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act (29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq.), enables employers to hire permanent replacement workers. This precedent has been upheld by the courts and by the National Labor Relations Board countless times over many decades. The MNA’s own website has information on strikes that confirms this and also affirms our position regarding reinstatement rights when permanent replacement workers have been hired.
We have been open, honest and transparent about our plan to hire permanent replacement nurses. We waited over two months after the strike began (longer than the entire MNA strike against SVH in 2000) to begin hiring, and we clearly announced our plan. We made it clear at the time that once a striking nurse’s position was permanently filled, that nurse would not have the right to return to their exact position when the strike ends. We made announcements when we posted additional positions, when we made our first offers to permanent replacement nurses, when the first group of permanent replacement nurses started work, and when we hired over 100 permanent replacement nurses. We value the role our permanent replacement nurses have played and continue to play in keeping our community safe. They are exceptional, experienced, and compassionate caregivers who have cared for patients during the latest wave of COVID-19, even while enduring significant bullying and harassment from the union. Over 75 percent of these nurses have at least 6 years’ experience and 35 percent have over 20 years’ experience. Many of them are actually MNA members who crossed the picket line. Importantly, many of the community’s physicians have publicly commented on the professionalism and skills of these replacement nurses.
Finally, the statement in your letter that we reduced services as a “punitive ploy” is not accurate. The service reductions were an incredibly difficult decision directly resulting from the unnecessarily prolonged strike and the lack of sufficient staffing to cover the requirements appropriately. Indeed, the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Compensation Assistance, an independent state agency, recently confirmed that the closures were a result of the work stoppage. Scaling back services is something we hoped we would not need to do, but it preserved our ability to keep core services open during the rise of the COVID-19 delta variant. Without the closures, services like our emergency department and critical care would have been in serious jeopardy—not to mention the many non-nursing jobs that provide crucial support for these core services.
After numerous unsuccessful attempts to end this strike, we arrived at an impasse. Consequently, we invoked our right under federal labor law to unilaterally implement the terms of the last, best, and final offer presented to the MNA in early August. We stand by our decision to guarantee a job for every striking nurse who wants one, even though we are not legally obligated to do so, and remain open to any compromise that does not involve forcibly removing permanent replacement nurses.
We respectfully request that you advise the MNA to stop falsely disparaging our community’s excellent hospital and allow the approximately 85 percent of nurses to return to their exact previous positions, and we will honor our commitment to work together to find a compromise for those who remain.
We appreciate your interest in resolving this issue and remain open to constructive input.
Saumya Sutaria, M.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Tenet Health