PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — At 3 p.m. Monday, members of United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) Local 5098 walked off the job and began picketing in Providence.
The union represents more than 2,400 nurses and other health care workers at Rhode Island and Hasbro Children’s Hospitals.
Here are 12 things you need to know about the strike:
1. This is about a new three-year contract.
The local UNAP chapter has been in negotiations for months with parent company Lifespan over a new three-year contract for the union nurses. The members twice voted down contract offers in the past week and a half, leading to decision to walk off the job. Lifespan has suggested a four-year contract.
2. Rhode Island Hospital is still open.
Lifespan has hired hundreds of replacement nurses and techs to work at Rhode Island Hospital (Including Hasbro Children’s Hospital), and plans to keep most services operating as usual. But the hospital is aiming to reduce the “patient census” by diverting some medical services to other hospitals as needed during the strike.
3. The strike will last four days, whether there is a deal or not.
While the nurses union originally said the strike would last three days, Lifespan said the replacement workers they hired had a guarantee of four days of work in their contract. Therefore, the nurses will continue to picket until Friday afternoon and then return to work, even if the two sides haven’t reached a consensus.
4. If you call an ambulance, you may be taken to a different hospital.
Ambulances will still take trauma patients, burn patients and people in cardiac or respiratory arrest to Rhode Island Hospital. But for people with other emergencies who call 911, rescues are being told to bring them to other facilities such as The Miriam Hospital, Kent Hospital or Roger Williams Medical Center.
5. Walk-ins can still go to the Rhode Island Hospital emergency room.
While the Department of Health has asked ambulance services to bring certain emergency patients to other hospitals, anyone who walks into the Rhode Island Hospital emergency room will still be accepted and treated.
6. Other hospitals are preparing for a possible increase in patients.
Only Lifespan nurses are going on strike, so hospitals owned by other companies like Care New England or CharterCARE are fully staffed and preparing for a potential “surge,” which could be 10% to 20% more patients than usual. The Department of Health is working with those hospitals to make sure they have enough staff and supplies to handle the extra patients, and longer wait times at emergency rooms are possible.
7. Stroke patients will be taken to a primary stroke center.
Ambulances have been instructed to take stroke patients to one of the seven “primary stroke centers” in Rhode Island, which include Kent Hospital, Landmark Medical Center, The Miriam Hospital, Newport Hospital, Roger Williams Medical Center, South County Hospital, and Our Lady of Fatima Hospial. Severe patients, if needed, will be flown to comprehensive stroke centers in Boston, Hartford or New Haven.
8. Pediatric patients will still be treated at Hasbro.
The emergency department at Hasbro Children’s Hospital will still accept all pediatric patients during the strike.
9. All elective surgeries and non-urgent, diagnostic testing will be rescheduled.
These procedures have been postponed at both hospitals until the work stoppage is over.
10. This UNAP chapter has never gone on strike before.
While the union has had several tense contract disputes with Lifespan over the years, members have never gone on strike before. There have been other nursing strikes in Rhode Island in the past, notably in 2006 at Memorial Hospital and 1998 at Women & Infants Hospital, but nurses have never walked off the job at the state’s only Level 1 trauma center.
11. Woman & Infants nurses are not going on strike but they will march in support of UNAP.
Women & Infants Hospital, which shares a campus with Rhode Island and Hasbro, is owned by Care New England and is not a party to the contract dispute at issue in this strike. But the union that represents Women & Infants nurses, SEIU Local 1199, says off-duty nurses will be walking with the UNAP nurses to show solidarity.
12. The nurses could strike again if a deal isn’t reached.
If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the nurses will still return to work on Friday. But the union and Lifespan will need to go back to the negotiating table to try and work out a contract. The union isn’t showing its cards yet, but it’s entirely possible the nurses could take another work action down the road if they continue to reject contract offers from Lifespan.