Labor relations: Letting hospital contract issues turn into strikes can be costly

Labor relations issues are increasingly sticky as hospital employees and management face off in the middle of a bad economy, but hospitals that let contract disagreements devolve into strikes face potential quality-of-care concerns--and even patient deaths--according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Relations (NBER).

In the latest strike news, some 1,500 employees at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia continue to strike. However, the hospital's chief negotiator met yesterday with a negotiator for the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals at the request of a mediator, and follow-up discussions could continue today, reports the Philadelphia Business Journal. These talks represent the first face-to-face negotiations between the two sides since the strike began on March 31.

Temple has remained open by using non-union and replacement staff, but the hospitals approach could be putting patients at risk. Nursing strikes increased in-hospital mortality by 19.4 percent and 30-day readmissions by 6.5 percent for patients admitted during a strike, according to an NBER study of nursing strikes from 1984 to 2004 in New York state. These results suggest that hospitals that stay open during strikes "are doing so at a lower quality of patient care," say the study authors.

To learn more about the Temple situation:
- read the Philadelphia Business Journal article
- access the NBER working paper here

To learn about ongoing union problems at Lee's Summit Medical Center in Missouri:
- read this Kansas City Business Journal article