PRNewswire -- After more than 16 months of negotiations, including yet another session held yesterday with a Federal mediator, the registered nurses of St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA have called for a vote by the membership on Friday, April 8 to authorize a one-day strike. According to the union, talks continue to stall over hospital management's refusal to improve unsafe patient care conditions at the hospital.

These 740 St. Vincent nurses, who are locked in a protracted dispute with Vanguard Health Care, are working under what some describe as the toughest RN staffing levels in the city. In the last 16 months nurses have filed more than 1,000 official reports of unsafe conditions at the facility (an average of more than two a day). To address the crisis, the nurses are seeking contract language to guarantee safer staffing levels in the hospital.

"The nurses of St. Vincent Hospital simply cannot deliver safe patient care under the current staffing conditions at this hospital, in fact, it is not exaggeration to say that every day, on every shift, patients at this hospital are being placed in jeopardy because their nurses have too many patients to care for at one time," said Marlena Pellegrino. "We have been negotiating with the hospital for months over these issues, yet they still refuse to adequately address our concerns. While we don't want to strike, we cannot allow the safety of our patients to continue to be compromised."

Nurses will cast their vote by secret ballot. The vote does not mean the nurses will strike immediately. It gives the negotiating committee the authorization to call a one-day strike if and when they feel it is necessary. Once the committee issues its official notice to strike, the hospital will then have 10 days before the nurses will go out on strike. Talks on April 4 ended without the hospital making any movement to respond to the nurses' staffing proposal.

Vanguard management's initial response more than two months ago was a proposal that would add more nurses to a few floors, while also calling for the closure of nine beds in the intensive care unit, increase patient assignments for nurses on a floor caring for patients recovering from open-heart surgery and eliminate a team of patient support nurses who assist other nurses with complex cases.

The nurses feel their concerns about the staffing conditions are supported by a significant body of research demonstrating the link between poor staffing and a variety of poor patient outcomes and an increase in preventable patient deaths in the nation's hospitals. The nurses began negotiating a new contract with Vanguard management in December of 2009 and a total of 36 negotiating sessions have been held to date. The current contract expired on Dec. 31, 2009 and has been extended by mutual agreement until April 19. The parties are scheduled to meet next on April 13.

Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest professional health care organization and the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It has 23,000 members.