St. Vincent Hospital severely understaffed, nurses and union says

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DPH cited St. Vincent for not having enough telemetry boxes, but the Massachusetts Nurses Association said that doesn’t solve understaffing.

St. Vincent Hospital severely understaffed, nurses and union says
St. Vincent Hospital nurses on strike in 2021. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

After the Department of Public Health cited St. Vincent Hospital for insufficient equipment, the Worcester hospital quickly corrected the deficit, according to state documents. But, nurses at the hospital say it’s not enough to combat the “dire” understaffing plaguing the hospital.

In December of 2023, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents nurses at St. Vincent, began filing multiple formal complaints against the hospital, which is owned and operated by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare.

The union reported multiple instances of unstaffed or understaffed emergency rooms, behavioral health units, and intensive care units to the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the DPH, and the Joint Commission.

“It’s upsetting, because you think that you go into nursing to take care of patients,” said Carla LeBlanc, a nurse since 2016 at St. Vincent. “To file these kinds of things against your employer is the riskiest, scariest thing to do.”

A complaint filed in January described a cardiac patient not receiving a telemetry box — a portable electrocardiogram device. Marlena Pellegrino, a nurse who’s been at St. Vincent’s for nearly 38 years, said post-op, cardiac, and pneumonia are among those who need the boxes.

“There’s very few patients that come to the hospital today that don’t require telemetry monitoring,” Pellegrino said. 

DPH investigated in February and determined that “(t)he hospital failed to have a sufficient number of cardiac telemetry boxes,” according to a DPH statement of deficiencies document obtained by

Through interviews with nurses, DPH found that “there is typically not enough teleboxes available on this telemetry unit,” and “the nurse has to either wait for an available telebox or ‘go hunting’ for a telebox.”

In response, St. Vincent ordered 42 more boxes, which were inventoried by March, according to the hospital’s statement of correction submitted to the state. They also laid out plans for a loaning log for the boxes, new training for nurses, and a plan to ensure the boxes arrive to units in time for new patients.

Nurses with the MNA said this isn’t enough. LeBlanc said there still aren’t enough telemetry boxes for patients, and understaffing affects the ability to clean, prepare, and transport the boxes.

“Just getting new boxes is not the fix,” Pellegrino said. “There’s not a sufficient number of nurses, again, to monitor how many boxes we have, if they’re clean, if there’s enough for a number of patients on the floor.”

Nurses, union allege retaliation for raising concerns

Pellegrino and LeBlanc were part of a nine-month strike of St. Vincent’s nurses that ended in December 2021. About 700 nurses walked off the job primarily over staffing levels at the hospital, which they said left each nurse to care for more patients than was safe.

More than three years later, LeBlanc said, the understaffing persists.

“Whether it’s to save costs or to retaliate against union nurses, either way the person who pays the price is the patient,” she said. “I don’t believe there’s a nurse working in that building that isn’t considering it, or hasn’t looked for a job, or hasn’t had one foot out the door.”

The MNA said the hospital is not upholding staffing levels set in the contract that resulted from the strike.

Eight nurses represented by MNA were fired when they refused to work overburdened shifts, the union said in documents filed in Worcester Superior Court records in March. Alicia Dagle-Metz, a nurse at St. Vincent for more than 20 years, raised concerns about working as a resource nurse in the understaffed emergency department.

A resource nurse won’t typically get assigned a full patient load, but rather runs the floor and supports other nurses. Resource nurses are also responsible for organizing and distributing telemetry boxes, Pellegrino said, “but we have none of that.”

Due to the low staffing, Dagle-Metz assumed she’d be assigned patients and “believed this situation violated the laws, rules, regulations and professional standards applicable to her nursing license and public health, and posed a risk to public health,” the complaint said. 

Dagle-Metz, along with seven other veteran nurses, were first placed on unpaid administrative leave, then terminated, the complaint said.

The lack of sufficient staff has left phones unanswered, patients with bedsores, and patients laying in their urine and feces, according to reports filed by the MNA.

“Every day (I’m) going in, every shift in, watching patients be harmed, for no reason other than no staff in the building,” Pellegrino said.

Tenet Healthcare did not return multiple requests for comment.

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