Nurses Return At St. Mary After Strike

Doug Gross
·3 min read

LANGHORNE, PA — Nurses at St. Mary Medical Center returned to work Sunday after a strike as they seek a first-ever contract.

Last week, with coronavirus cases surging in Pennsylvania and elsewhere around the country, the nurses announced a two-day strike, saying the hospital has refused them adequate staffing to properly handle the pandemic.

The strike was planned for Tuesday and Wednesday. But St. Marys' owner, Trinity Health Systems, which had brought in temporary nurses, locked them out for an additional three days.

"We walked back in this morning with our heads held high," Bill Engle, a nurse at St. Mary, said Sunday. "We are proud of what we accomplished, raising our concerns to Trinity and to the community."

St. Mary is not the only area hospital where nurses are voicing concerns about staffing as COVID-19 cases mount.

At Einstein Medical Cennter in Philadelphia, 1,100 nurses with similar concerns avoided a strike Thursday by signing a new contract that included increased staffing and improved work conditions. On Saturday, 500 nurses at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, also in Philadelphia, reached a tentative agreement with co-owners Tower Health and Drexel University.

Lower Bucks, Suburban, Jeanes and St. Mary sister hospital Mercy Fitzgerald also all settled contracts with their nurses recently.

"Now that St. Chris, Einstein, Lower Bucks, Suburban, Jeanes and Mercy Fitzgerald have all reached agreements to improve basic staffing levels, it’s time for Trinity to do the same," Engle said.

According to the union, nurses at St. Mary have been pressing owner Trinity Health Systems for months to agree to increase staffing, saying that nurse and patient health is at risk.

According to the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, nurses can make $6-7 an hour more working at other hospitals near St. Mary. The union says nurses have been leaving in droves and that the emergency room at St. Mary has begun filling up with COVID-19 patients, who are having to wait for hours because there's not enough staff to take care of them. Some shifts are being staffed with half the nurses they need, the union claims.

"The reason we demonstrated outside the hospital was to call attention to the serious concerns about staffing that are at the heart of our contract fight," St. Mary nurse Esmond Herry said. "Trinity chose to fight its own nurses, whom they locked out of the hospital, rather than address the serious issues within it."

Trinity Health has said it offered nurses a deal that would have included a pay raise. A statement last week said St. Mary remained "laser-focused" on caring for patients and intends to continue negotiating in good faith on a contract for the nurses.

Nurses at St. Mary voted to unionize last year and, since then, have been negotiating with Trinity on their first contract. They have held informational pickets at the hospital to highlight what they've called staffing shortages and claims that Trinity has dragged its feet on negotiations.

Trinity Health is one of the largest hospital networks in the United States, with 92 hospitals and 100 continuing care location in 22 states. Based in Livonia, Michigan, Trinity has annual operating revenues of $18.8 billion and assets of $30.5 billion.

St. Mary Medical Center is located at 1201 Langhorne-Newtown Rd. in Langhorne.

This article originally appeared on the Levittown Patch