Safety First: UNAP has challenged Fatima to provide patient and employee safety data, but they’re not delivering

Last month, members of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) Local 5110 picketed informally outside Fatima Hospital in North Providence. UNAP’s contract expired at the start of February, but their protest is about more than just bargaining for higher pay. The union has made safety and all related grievances a mainstay of their platform. “We’re at wit’s end because Prospect Medical refuses to provide us with data so that we can take a look at the specifics of what’s happening and then in our negotiations advance proposals that are designed to address these problems,” said Chris Callaci, general counsel for UNAP.

In a 20-month period between 2016 and 2018, employees at Fatima Hospital filed 150 incident reports, 50 of which employer data describes as assaults. UNAP was staggered by the number. “Why are people being assaulted when they go to work?” said Callaci. “What measures are they taking to keep staff safe?” This was only aggregate data provided to the union. When UNAP asked for details of the incidents, Fatima refused to provide any for five months.

UNAP filed a complaint against Fatima and Prospect Medical Holdings, Inc. with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an agency of the federal government. Prospect Medical has a controlling stake in Fatima and is underwritten by private equity firm Leonard Green. As a result of the complaint, Prospect found itself under investigation by the NLRB for not providing documentation. Since then, the documents have been offered to the union for viewing, but they’re not allowed to make copies or keep any of the documents. For assaults, all the documents say is there was an assault; they might say the specific staff member who was involved and the date, but don’t say the form of the assault or describe any specific circumstances.

In 2017, Fatima was subject to an inspection by the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation, an outside organization that audits hospitals nationwide. The results of Fatima’s inspection showed 30 deficiencies throughout the hospital. But again, that’s only aggregate data provided by Fatima; UNAP has no idea what the specific faults were or how to resolve them. The commission expects Fatima to come up with a correction plan to solve each issue. UNAP filed another complaint for the information with the NLRB, and NLRB found merit to the union’s claims and threatened to sue Prospect Medical if they didn’t provide the information to UNAP. Prospect Medical refused: The trial was last year and the union is now awaiting the judge’s decision.

In RI, hospitals are required to keep data for safety reasons when patients are moved. “They gave us a one-page document that said from 2015 to 2016 there was a 60% increase in injuries to employees that occurred during the movement of patients,” said Callaci. That’s just the aggregate number from the selected period. UNAP doesn’t know any specifics for this, either. The union asked for more recent data and Fatima refused, so UNAP filed another complaint with the NLRB; it’s currently under investigation. “You can see a pattern here,” says Callaci. Fatima’s strategy has been to delay until the federal government breathes down their neck.

“They fear that what they give us will be publicized,” says Callaci. “We view our job not just as advocating for employees and improving their terms and conditions of employment, but we consider ourselves patient advocates as well.” Fatima Hospital hasn’t given UNAP any direction vis a vis handling the aggregate data. The union can’t propose solutions without being informed fully about the data. Callaci says UNAP would prefer to work with the hospital to handle the numbers, but hospital higher-ups have been less than transparent. UNAP has to formally request it under federal labor law.

As of this writing, UNAP has been working without a new contract, which means they abide by the old one until a new one is negotiated and signed. There is no definitive timeline at the moment for a new one, and negotiations are continuing. There’s also no definitive timeline for the NLRB investigations. They might come to a decision whether to sue Prospect again over the new complaints within the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, UNAP is planning another picket, radio ads and letter-writing campaigns to doctors and local elected officials, all what Callaci describes as their “corporate campaign.” A strike is not on the horizon, but the union reserves that right as long as they work without a new contract.

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