Rhode Island Hospital is the largest hospital and only Level I trauma center and verified burn center in the state. Their pediatric division, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, is the state’s premier pediatric facility with the only pediatric emergency department, Level 1 Trauma Center and 24-hour ambulance in the region. Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital are both subsidiaries of Lifespan, a $2.1 billion health system providing emergency care for more than 257,000 patients and performing more than 40,900 surgeries each year.
For over a decade, the state of Rhode Island participated in the original Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which allowed RNs to provide care to patients in NLC member states without obtaining additional licenses. In January 2018, under nursing union pressure, Rhode Island failed to enact legislation to join the new eNLC, making it the only original NLC state that did not move to the eNLC. This change meant it would be much more difficult to mobilize out-of-state nurses to provide relief in the case of an emergency, natural disaster or strike.
In June 2018, Lifespan and UNAP Local 5098 began negotiations for their upcoming expiring nursing contract. Representing more than 2,400 nurses, technologists, therapists and support staff at Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital, UNAP was also an outspoken opponent of the eNLC. Lifespan worked with Huffmaster on contingency planning and strike preparation in both 2011 and 2015, and chose to work with Huffmaster again in early 2018 to ensure Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital would both be able to provide continuous, quality patient care in the event of an anticipated summer 2018 strike.
Though Lifespan offered pay increases ranging from 6% to 19.75% over a three-year period, UNAP put significant pressure on the hospital to offer across the board 12% raises. When Rhode Island Hospital leadership did not concede to the demands of the union, negotiations came to a standstill and in mid-July, UNAP Local 5098 issued a 10-day strike notice. Aware that striking in a non-compact state would put immense pressure on Rhode Island Hospital’s leadership to buckle to their demands, the Union intended to strike during peak vacation season.
Huffmaster had been preparing the hospital for a potential strike for more than six months, recruiting and keeping nursing and allied personal on standby for weeks as union negotiations stalled. In addition, Huffmaster was working with the Rhode Island Department of Health to expedite the licenses of more than 800 potential replacement nurses, allied and technical personnel in advance of a strike that was now a reality.
Faced with summer storms and flight delays out of some of the nation’s largest airports, Huffmaster successfully moved in 500 out-of-state nurses and 110 allied personnel in a matter of days. Working closely with Lifespan, Huffmaster coordinated four days of orientation prior to the three-day strike, preparing replacement personnel to provide the same excellent quality of care patients expect from Rhode Island Hospital while working in a high-tension dispute. On day two of the strike, the hospital was able to confidently lift its emergency department diversion after witnessing the caliber of nursing care being provided by the replacement clinical staff.
Throughout the strike, Huffmaster worked hand-in-hand with the Providence Police Department Chief of Police and Rhode Island Hospital’s security department to deploy 60 specially strike-trained security offers to the 19-building main hospital campus. Providing strike line security and protection of the replacement nursing staff entering and exiting each shift, the strike security officers kept both employees and patients safe at dozens of building access points during the strike.
After a three-day strike and fourth day lockout, Rhode Island Hospital and UNAP resumed negotiations. The hospital negotiated a mutually agreeable five-year contract with the union, resoundingly approved by UNAP on August 22. Working with Huffmaster well in advance of a labor dispute enabled Rhode Island Hospital to continue operations during the strike without interruption to regularly scheduled surgeries and procedures, helping the state’s largest hospital keep their obligations to patients and their families, and fulfil their mission to deliver health with care.