Twin Cities hospitals are assessing temporary staffing levels for next week's three-day nursing strike, hoping to maintain usual capacity but planning to scale back if needed.
Children's Minnesota on Wednesday announced it is planning only emergency surgeries at its Minneapolis and St. Paul hospitals during the strike between 7 a.m. Monday and 7 a.m. Thursday. Otherwise, the system anticipates full emergency care at the hospitals and usual outpatient care at its clinics and Minnetonka surgery center.
"Any families impacted by a delayed appointment will be contacted directly by their provider in the next several days," said a written statement provided by Children's spokeswoman Dina Elrashidy.
The walkout could be the largest private sector nursing strike in U.S. history, involving more than 12,000 nurses with the Allina, Children's and Fairview hospital systems along with Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park and North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale.
North Memorial operates one of three major adult trauma centers in the Twin Cities. The other two, at HCMC in Minneapolis and Regions Hospital in St. Paul, are not involved in the contract dispute.
Strikes also are planned by 2,500 Essentia Health and St. Luke's hospital nurses in the Duluth area. A statement from Essentia on Wednesday pledged "uninterrupted urgent and emergency care" during the walkout.
Fairview in a statement said that the initial number of temporary nurses looks favorable to maintain operations at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, St. John's in Maplewood, and Southdale in Edina — and at a long-term acute care ward at St. Joseph's in St. Paul.
"It's a delicate balance and we're watching it closely," said the statement from Fairview spokesman Joseph Campbell. "If we do need to reschedule appointments, we will be in touch with our patients. They do not need to call."
Travel nurses have been heavily used during the COVID-19 pandemic to address shortages in response to hospital staff outbreaks across the U.S., making it unclear whether there would be enough to respond to the upcoming strike.
Hospitals have been recruiting beyond their actual need, expecting that many travel nurses would end up declining offers or having choices of multiple assignments in the Twin Cities next week. Temporary licensing permits for nurses in other states have also been a concern. The Minnesota Board of Nursing has been overwhelmed with applications and fallen behind on approvals.
Hospitals also have been shifting available outpatient clinical staff into appropriate hospital roles. North Memorial in a statement said some nonclinical workers are being repurposed as greeters to help visiting nurses and patients find their ways around the hospital.
The strike planning follows a summerlong contract standoff between the hospitals and their nurses, represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association. While safety and nurse staffing levels have been key issues, the breakdown is largely over compensation and retention bonuses to keep nurses on the job amid a stressful pandemic.
Hospitals are offering more than 10% pay bumps over three years while the nurses have sought more than 30% to halt the brain drain of nurses who are leaving hospital care. Contract talks were ongoing Wednesday with the Fairview and Duluth nurses, and talks are scheduled Thursday for the North Memorial and Children's nurses.