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ON STRIKE: Nearly 2,000 Workers At Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital In South Buffalo Walked Out This Morning Over Staffing Crisis, Deteriorating Patient Care & Safety

Published Friday, October 1, 2021
by CWA News & Staff
ON STRIKE: Nearly 2,000 Workers At Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital In South Buffalo Walked Out This Morning Over Staffing Crisis, Deteriorating Patient Care & Safety

(BUFFALO, NEW YORK) – Communications Workers of America (CWA)-represented Nurses, Technologists, Clerical Staff, Aides, Dietary and other Service Workers employed at Catholic Health System’s Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo went out on Strike at 6 a.m. today (Friday, October 1st) after management refused to agree to a fair contract that would have addressed an ongoing staffing crisis and prioritized patient care.

CWA represents more than 2,500 Workers at Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital, Suburban Kenmore Mercy Hospital and Sisters of Charity Hospital-St. Joseph’s Campus in Suburban Cheektowaga, who have been raising concerns about staffing issues for months.

Earlier this month, Workers in the Nursing, Cleaning and Dietary Departments at Mercy Hospital voted overwhelmingly with 97% to authorize a Strike.

Their Union contract expired Thursday (September 30th). 

CWA National President Chris Shelton and CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainer both authorized an open-ended Strike in Buffalo, and the National Union has pledged to support the Workers as long as they are on Strike.

Hundreds gathered outside the hospital early this morning to cheer on their fellow Co-Workers who walked out of the medical facility at 6 a.m. 

Many jeered scabs whom Catholic Health has hired to replace them at hourly rates nearly four times what CWA Caregivers are being paid.

“Going on Strike was the most difficult decision we have had to make in our careers, but we must do right by our community.  It is our life’s mission to give our friends, family and neighbors the care and support they deserve, and walking off the job is now the only option to force Catholic Health to listen.  We are incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support from Buffalo residents and call on Catholic Health to put the patients first,” Registered Nurse (RN) Linda Bain said. 

“We are on Strike because we can’t go on like this.  The situation at our hospital gets worse every day, and if Catholic Health isn’t willing to take a stand for the adequate staffing levels and care our community deserves, we will,” Immediate Treatment Assistant Cheryl Darling said. “Going on Strike was a last resort, but when you witness patients waiting hours for food and medicine, suffering sitting in soiled clothes and falling desperately trying to get to the bathroom on their own, there was no other option.”   

Workers are eager to return to work - quickly, but have made it clear that the only way the Strike would end is a “contract that puts patient care first.” 

A recent survey of more than 500 Registered Nurses (RNs), Technical, Service and Clerical Staff employed by Catholic Health’s Kenmore Mercy, Mercy and St. Joseph's Hospitals revealed how dire the conditions are at Catholic Health’s hospitals because of understaffing.

Workers expressed nearly universal concerns over understaffing, threats to patient care, supply shortages, high turnover and low pay.

Seventy-percent of respondents say they have seen patients be neglected or suffer needlessly because of staffing shortages.

Only 10% say patients are receiving the quality care they need.

Ninety-eight percent say their hospital is struggling to retain Staff and the vast majority cite concerns over care quality, staffing shortages, low pay, poor working conditions and Catholic Health’s refusal to settle a fair contract as the reasons for turnover.

Survey respondents shared harrowing accounts of patients sitting soiled for hours, falling trying to get to the restroom themselves, not getting fed in a timely manner and waiting hours for medication. 

Hundreds of new hires are needed to ensure safe staffing levels, leaving the remaining Staff exhausted and increasingly concerned over their ability to provide adequate patient care as COVID-19 cases increase in Erie County.

Staff have reported worked through lunch hours and breaks because coverage is unavailable.

Nurses report working 12-hour shifts in the ICU with zero breaks, and a lack of necessary supplies to do their jobs properly, including basic essentials like urinals, pillows, sheets, blankets, washcloths, thermometers, vitals machines, blood tubes and syringes.

These Front Line Workers continue to call for the establishment of Safe Staffing Ratios to help ensure quality patient care, but CWA Representatives say Catholic Health refuses.

Meanwhile, Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan brings home $1 million in salary, and the top 11 administrators made more than $7 million combined in 2019. 

In a letter to the Buffalo community announcing the Strike, the Union-represented Caregivers expressed how difficult it was to make this choice, but that Catholic Health had “made it impossible” to provide the level of care and attention patients deserve.

“Our hospital, and the hospitals throughout the Catholic Health System, are dangerously understaffed.  Every day, we are terrified of needless patient deaths in our hospital because we are stretched so thin.  We have bargained for months to achieve a contract agreement that will allow us to do our jobs properly, but Catholic Health stubbornly refuses to agree to iron-clad safe staffing levels that will ensure your safety.  We have concluded that only a Strike will make Catholic Health understand that we must have guaranteed increased staff and improved compensation if we hope to provide the quality of care our community deserves,” the Workers explained in their letter.  

The full community letter can be found here. Editor’s Note: Photos that appear with this Labor News Report are courtesy of the CWA Via the Social Network Facebook.

For More On This Labor News Story, Read’s Labor News Report, Headlined: ‘Strike Or No Strike,’ CWA-Represented Critical Care RN Tina Knop ‘Will No Longer Work At’ Catholic Health’s South Buffalo Mercy Hospital - Nurse ‘Tearfully Shares What Staffing Problems Are Doing To Hospital Caregivers & Patients’



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