Registered nurses in Texas and Kansas announce second strikes at Ascension hospitals
On December 6, around 2,000 nurses will strike against unsafe conditions
Registered nurses in Texas and Kansas at three Ascension hospitals gave notice today to their employer that they will hold one-day strikes on Wednesday, December 6 to protest unsafe conditions management has failed to remedy, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU).
Nurses at Ascension via Christi St. Joseph Hospital [Wichita, Kansas], Ascension via Christi St. Francis Hospital [Wichita, Kansas], and Ascension Seton Medical Center [(ASMCA) Austin, Texas] are bargaining their first union contracts. Throughout bargaining, nurses have emphasized the importance of finding solutions for safe staffing and nurse recruitment and retention, which are critical factors for ensuring patient safety. On December 6, they will strike to specifically call attention to:
- Equipment issues: At ASMCA, there is a lack of functional IV pumps, hospital gowns, blankets, and thermometers, as well as persistent problems with hospital-issued phones that nurses use during their shift for communication.
- Staffing issues: In Wichita, at St. Francis and St. Joseph hospitals, management’s unsafe ‘floating’ policy means nurses are assigned to units where they do not usually work and may not have the training or expertise to care for those patients. In Austin, at ASCMA, management is proposing that labor and delivery nurses with as little as 18 months of experience be assigned to ‘charge’ roles, which are typically given to experienced nurses in safely-staffed hospitals as they are responsible for the smooth functioning of their units and act as resource nurses.
Nurses always give at least 10 days of advance notice to their hospitals to allow for alternative plans to be made for patient care.
“Just about every shift, I’m running around trying to find spare, clean blankets to swaddle our newborns and thermometers to make sure our patients aren’t running a fever,” said Kristine Kittelson, RN in the postpartum unit at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin. “It’s unbelievable that Ascension management, with its deep resources, is dragging its feet on basic equipment and supplies that would help us take care of our patients and ensure their safety.”
“Management is floating nurses all over the hospital without regard to their competencies or clinical specialties,” said Marvin Ruckle, RN in the NICU at Ascension via Christi St. Joseph Hospital in Wichita. “Before we unionized, a neonatal ICU nurse would be floated to work in the adult psychiatric unit, which is completely outside that RN’s area of expertise. We want to limit these unsafe floating practices and ensure that nurses are only floated to units where they have current competencies to perform the job well.”
ASCENSION PRACTICES UNDER GROWING NATIONAL SCRUTINY
The conditions Austin and Wichita nurses are facing and fighting against tracks with a broader pattern of Ascension’s greed, which has garnered the scrutiny of local and national news media and federal regulators, including:
- A February 2023 letter to CEO Joseph Impicciche by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin calling into question Ascension’s nonprofit status and mission-driven values.
- Two separate reports in January 2023 from Milwaukee, Wis., discussing “disruptions to patient care, long wait times in the emergency department, delayed surgeries and staff concerns about patient safety” at Ascension facilities.
- A December 2022 New York Times investigation into Ascension’s staffing conditions reporting that the hospital “spent years reducing its staffing levels in an effort to improve profitability, even though the chain is a nonprofit organization with nearly $18 billion of cash reserves.”
- A November 2021 STAT News investigation describing Ascension as a hospital system “moonlighting as a private equity firm.”
Ascension is the second-largest and wealthiest nonprofit and Catholic health system in the country. In fiscal year 2021, Ascension reported a net income of more than $6.4 billion, and the system’s CEO took home a compensation package worth more than $13 million. Additionally, according to a 2022 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Ascension runs an investment company that manages more than $41 billion.
BACKGROUND ON NNOC/NNU AT ASCENSION
Earlier this year on June 27, 2023, nearly 2,000 Ascension nurses in Austin and Wichita went on a historic one-day strike despite a blatant union-busting scheme by the hospital system.
These strikes followed a wave of historic organizing at the three hospitals driven by nurses’ belief that Ascension has failed to invest its resources — including the tens of millions of dollars it does not pay in federal taxes, due to its nonprofit status — back into its communities and workforce.
And in early November, nurses at Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, Md. voted to unionize with National Nurses Organizing Committee, citing as their reasons for organizing many of the same problems that their Texas and Kansas colleagues are facing.
Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin:
- 700 nurses represented
- Sept. 21, 2022 - formed the largest private-sector nurse union in Texas by voting to join NNOC/NNU
- Nov. 17, 2022 - held a rally to mark the start of their contract negotiations
Ascension via Christi St. Francis Hospital in Wichita:
- 650 nurses represented
- Nov. 10, 2022 - formed the first private-sector union in Wichita in the city’s largest hospital by voting to join NNOC/NNU
- Feb. 13, 2023 - held a rally to mark the start of their contract negotiations
Ascension via Christi St. Joseph Hospital in Wichita:
- 300 nurses represented
- March 9, 2023 - voted to join NNOC/NNU, making them the second Ascension-owned hospital in Wichita to create a nurses union
- May 22, 2023 - held a rally to mark the start of their contract negotiations
Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore:
- 500 nurses represented
- Nov. 4, 2023 - voted to join NNOC/NNU
National Nurses Organizing Committee is an affiliate of National Nurses United, the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the United States with nearly 225,000 members nationwide. NNU affiliates also include California Nurses Association, DC Nurses Association, Michigan Nurses Association, Minnesota Nurses Association, and New York State Nurses Association.