Women & Infants Hospital nurses protest holiday vacation policy

Updated 2:25 p.m.

NURSES FROM SEIU HEALTHCARE 1199NE are protesting at Women and Infants Hospital, calling on the facility and its parent company, Care New England Health System to back off a policy implemented earlier this month that denies them the ability to take vacation days during holidays. / COURTESY WOMEN AND INFANTS HOSPITAL
NURSES FROM SEIU HEALTHCARE 1199NE are protesting at Women and Infants Hospital, calling on the facility and its parent company, Care New England Health System to back off a policy implemented earlier this month that denies them the ability to take vacation days during holidays. / COURTESY WOMEN AND INFANTS HOSPITAL

PROVIDENCE – Amid staffing shortages, nurses and other employees from SEIU Healthcare 1199NE at Women & Infants Hospital are protesting a new policy that prevents frontline caregivers from taking vacation time on holidays, according to union members.

SEIU Healthcare 1199NE is holding what it calls an “informational picket” on Tuesday afternoon in front of Women & Infants Hospital, calling on the facility and its parent company Care New England Health System to back off a policy implemented earlier this month that denies nurses the ability to take vacation days during holidays. The union, which represents 1,700 employees at Women & Infants Hospital, said the new policy goes against its contract with the hospital company.

“We’ve been working really hard these last couple years during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kelli Price, a registered nurse at Women & Infants for 26 years, working in the medical/surgical oncology critical care unit. “We’re exhausted. We’re burned out. Now that we’re asking for time off, they’re turning us down. That’s not fair. It’s also against our contract that we agreed to.”

Price said the contract allows for two nurses on a unit to take vacation days in the morning shift on a holiday, two on the night shift, and one in the evening shift. Price said it’s a policy that’s been in place for 40 years.

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But the hospital administration started denying vacation days on holidays across the board around two or three weeks ago.

“It’s not good for safety,” Price said. “You don’t want distracted, burnt out staff taking care of you and your baby. … It doesn’t make sense.”

Care New England released a statement in response to the picket on Tuesday afternoon.

“Women & Infants Hospital’s goal is to continue to be fair and equitable to all employees by following the language in the aligned-to union contracts,” said Care New England spokesperson Raina Smith, in an emailed statement.

SEIU 1199NE is calling on Care New England to “end the staffing crisis and to provide dedicated health care heroes with needed time off to rest and recharge” after enduring two years of the pandemic. Care New England, which also operates Butler Hospital, Kent Hospital and other facilities across the state, said in March that it had 983 openings across its health care enterprise.

“We’re hurting for nurses,” Price said. “People aren’t wanting to stay. People are coming in and not staying the 40 years as they used to and becoming experts in their field. They’re coming in and saying, ‘I don’t want to deal with this.’ It’s a revolving door. Retention is a huge problem right now. That’s another reason it’s bothering me that the hospital is taking this stand right now.”

(Update: Comment from Care New England added in 7th and 8th paragraph.)

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.

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