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Strikes called by same union at three major hospital systems nationwide

Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston to go to 60 percent capacity in preparation of nurses strike, hospital says.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

In what appears to be part of a coordinated union effort at three large health systems nationwide, 3,300 nurses at Brigham and Women's Hospital have said they would go out on strike for 24 hours on Monday, causing the major Boston healthcare provider to bring in 700 nurses from an outside agency and ramp down patient operations to 60 percent capacity.

The hospital has opened its incident command office, as it did  during the Marathon bombings, according to health system executives who held a press conference Friday.

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, a seven-day strike at five Allina Health hospitals began Sunday, and nurses began a four-day strike on Thursday at the Los Angeles Medical Center, which is part of the Kaiser Permanente system, according to The Boston Globe. The nurses in each state are affiliated with the same labor union, National Nurses United, the Globe said.

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The revelation Friday of the timing of the strike in coordination with the National Nurses union has led many to question the desire of the employees to reach an agreement, said President Elizabeth Nabel, MD.

[Also: Brigham and Women's Hospital nurses vote in favor of one-day strike]

Nurses at Brigham and Women's are already among the highest paid in the city and country, Nabel said. Nabel added she was disappointed that  negotiations have gotten to this point and called the nurses' demands unreasonable.

"Our expenses are growing at a higher rate than our revenue," Nabel said, calling this a challenging time for the hospital.

Hospital executives said they could not discuss ongoing negotiations.

The members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association are striking over pay and benefits, among other reasons.

Brigham and Women's Hospital, a flagship teaching hospital of Partners HealthCare in Massachusetts, is bringing in 700 nurses from a staffing agency and reducing operating capacity to 60 percent of normal, said Ron Walls, MD, executive vice president and chief operating officer.

While the nurses have planned a one-day strike, the hospital is not allowing any striking employees to return to work until Saturday to have the changeover take place during a quieter time for the hospital and to allow for any lingering staffing outages, according to Walls.

[Also: Brigham and Women's doctor under fire over alleged involvement in NFL's grant withdrawal]

Downsizing to this degree changes all normal operations, said Walls, who said he was not expecting a sick-out on the part of the striking employees after the strike.

Brigham and Women's has an average occupancy of 93 percent. The bed count of 970 will be down to 450 in-patients Monday, Walls said.

Patients requiring admission may be admitted to Brigham and Women's or transported to one of other community sites, he said.

The surgical volume of 120 will be down to 90 cases and 30  operating rooms to 15, he said.

Along with 140 nurses on staff not represented by the union who are expected to report to work, a total of  840 nurses will be available.

Asked if patients will be turned away, Walls said emergency services will remain the focus, but admissions may go elsewhere. Intensive care has yet to be downsized, he said.

Brigham and Women's Hospital is working with police to have 100  officers outside on site Monday to ensure a smooth flow of ambulance and motorized traffic and the safety of patients and employees on the picket line, according to John Pierro, senior vice president of Facilities and Operations.

The bargaining teams have met 21 times since the beginning of contract negotiations with no progress made, said Jackie Somerville, chief nursing officer and senior vice president of Patient Care Services, in a released statement. 

Twitter: @SusanJMorse