Hundreds of nurses at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Langhorne, PA, participated in a strike on Tuesday, November 17 as negotiations with their employer, Trinity Health Systems, remain at a standstill. Nurses of St. Mary’s and their union, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), have drawn attention to staffing concerns at the hospital amid a second surge of COVID-19.
Nurses cited cuts to their rapid response teams in the emergency room as an example of a budget cut that makes the hospital less safe. The union says St. Mary’s nursing staff earn about $8 an hour less than local competition, which results in recruiting and retention problems. Since the Michigan-based Trinity Health Systems bought St. Mary’s in 2015, the relationship has been strained.
According to Jim Gentile, a staff nurse at St. Mary’s since 1983, as soon as Trinity Health bought St. Mary’s, cuts were made in nursing across the entire hospital. Gentile says, “We went to the new CEO Jim Woodward and told him, ‘this is unsafe’ and he said he would never negotiate with nurses.” Woodward declined to comment.
Issues with Trinity Health prompted the nurses of St. Mary’s to unionize.
“You have executives from [hundreds] of miles away setting standards and directing local leadership without any regard for the community in which the hospital resides,” says Bill Engle, a striking R.N. at St. Mary’s.
“To Trinity, this is all about numbers,” says Engle. “But those numbers are patients—they’re someone’s mother, sister, brother or father. They’re in a bed, experiencing one of the worst moments of their lives. And we, the nurses, have to make decisions—like leaving the room quickly to attend to someone else—we wouldn’t normally have to make because we’re so short-staffed and caring for too many patients.”
Strikes at St. Mary’s will continue on Wednesday, November 18.