Last Friday, a tweet sent by 1199SEIUFlorida announced, “TC Palm: Nurses’ union plans strike at St. Lucie Medical Center after negotiations fail:http://fb.me/14sfQPR0x.” Citing a TCPalm article, the St. Lucie Medical Center nurses’ union is planning a strike after unsuccessful negotiations with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the healthcare organization that owns St. Lucie Medical Center.

According to Jean Stewart, a union delegate and registered nurse in St. Lucie Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Unit, “We have now made the choice that we are going to strike.” About 300 union workers voted to authorize the strike.

1199SEIUFlorida is a chapter of the 1199SEIUEast union of healthcare workers. The Florida chapter has more than 22,229 members working as nurses, professional employees, certified nurse’s aides, service and technical employees, and other hospital and nursing home employees. The union’s mission is “to improve and expand quality patient care, to protect and improve the lives of our members and our families, and to work in solidarity with working people in our communities and around the world.”

Nurses’ union rules require 10 days’ notice to HCA to ensure patient care is not interrupted when the strike begins. However, HCA has not yet been notified of the pending strike and the union has not determined when they will start.

Will a nurses’ strike impact the care of patients at St. Lucie Medical Center?

St. Lucie Medical Center has at least one option for finding nurses to fill the vacated positions during the strike. U.S. Nursing Corporation provides “nursing professionals to provide staffing solutions during labor disputes.” The company claims to be the only resource for comprehensive services throughout strike preparation and implementation.
Nurses hired through this organization are “non-strike” nurses and require a two-week commitment. The nurses are typically guaranteed 48 hours of work, and should be available for overtime.

While in theory, nurses with the same skills should be able to care for patients, handoffs, familiarity with the facility, the doctors and the hospital standards are all considerations when providing critical care to patients.

Researchers have studied the quality of care in New York hospitals during 50 nursing strikes over two decades. The findings, as reported in “Evidence on the Effects of Nurses’ Strikes,” are startling. “In-hospital mortality increased by 19.4 percent and hospital readmissions increased by 6.5 percent for patients admitted during a strike,” the study noted. Further, the study found that it does not help for hospitals to hire replacement workers, because they do not perform any better during strikes than hospitals that did not hire substitute employees.

An article in the Herald-Sun this week refers to a nurses’ strike in Australia where patients are being “horse-traded” as nurses determine which ones should get treatment. The Department of Health performance executive director told a panel, she “feared patient care would be significantly compromised as the dispute dragged on. ”The article cites cases where surgeries are cancelled with little notice and a two-year-old girl with a broken arm had to go to three hospitals before she received treatment.

While the nurses’ unions argue their disruption in service will not harm patients, there is a possibility that medical care will suffer during the nurses’ strike in South Florida. St. Lucie Medical Center, that offers care to the residents of Port St. Lucie and the Treasure Coast, handled nearly 43,000 emergency room visits and over 11,500 inpatient admissions in 2008. This volume of patients requires consistent care by trained nurses.

Our Treasure Coast medical malpractice attorneys hope the labor issues are resolved quickly and that no Florida residents receive inadequate care during the nurses’ strike.

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If you suspect that you or a loved one has been harmed by a doctor, nurse or hospital error, a South Florida medical malpractice attorney with more than 36 years of legal experience can evaluate the circumstances of your medical injury and advise you on your legal options. I am attorney Philip DeBerard. My legal practice concentrates on representing victims of serious accidents and injuries caused by the negligence of others, including medical malpractice.

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