Wherever they may occur, healthcare worker strikes are an extremely serious problem for the surrounding community. While the public may think of hospitals as merely a collection of doctors, there are typically hundreds (if not thousands) of other workers at a hospital who assist in providing quality healthcare services. These include: radiology technicians, nurses, pharmacists, lab scientists, occupational therapists, ambulance drivers, and custodial staff. Physicians understandably cannot manage the task of administering healthcare to thousands patients by themselves. What happens, though, when healthcare workers strike? More importantly, why do they do it?
One of the most common causes for healthcare worker strikes is patient safety. Even an average-sized hospital faces high rates of patient turnover and frenetic pacing when providing healthcare services. This creates tremendous pressure for physicians and other healthcare workers, as Medicare funding, grants, or other federal assistance may be completely tied to hospital performance. As one might imagine, hospital performance is in turn tied to several quantifiable metrics: patient length of stay (LOS), mortality rate, readmission rate, etc. If a given hospital does not perform well in these areas, staff may face an increased workload while simultaneously trying to manage a severely contracted budget.
In light of these performance measures, the problem of healthcare worker strikes represents somewhat of a Catch-22: anti-strike delegates commonly cite the fact that workers cannot possibly provide quality healthcare services while they are on strike (thus putting patients at risk), while healthcare workers often claim the root cause for the strike is patient safety. Hospital staff cites long hours, limited time away from work, and high patient turnover as ways that hospitals put patients at risk. While healthcare worker strikes have the potential to turn any locality into a medically underserved area (MUP), they are sometimes the only available option to get constituents to pay attention to the issues that hospital workers face.
Negotiations between hospital worker unions and local municipalities are often necessary to resolve issues related to hospital performance. Since healthcare worker strikes represent an immediate threat to patient safety, negotiations centering on labor are often swift. Both parties recognize the necessity of hospitals remaining open to servicing the local community. Hospital workers also realize that without essential services (life-saving and stabilizing surgeries, for example), many patients can die. For this reason, emergency hospital procedures and the staff scheduled to perform them are usually not subject to the strike. After labor negotiations (typically regarding rates for hourly employees, pension information, and vacation time) have been concluded, hospital services quickly resume.