Minnesota nurses to pay off medical debts for 1,800 patients

The Minnesota Nurses Association announced that it will pay off more than $2 million in medical debts.

To recognize the anniversary of the first in a series of nursing strikes at Allina Health, the Minnesota Nurses Association will pay off more than $2 million in patients' medical debts—although the cost to the union will be much lower than that.

The union acquired the past-due accounts for about 1,800 patients who owed more than $2.6 million in medical debt, the union announced. “MNA nurses decided to pay back the community that supported them during the strike against Allina Health,” it said.

The union will likely end up only paying out about $28,000, reports the Star Tribune, as many debt collection agencies will accept much lower sums to cash out medical debts.

RELATED: The high cost of nursing strikes at Allina Health is $149M and counting

About 4,800 nurses went on strike for a week last June to protest Allina’s plan to phase out union health insurance in favor of its corporate plan. In the fall, the nurses went on strike for more than a month before agreeing to enroll in Allina’s corporate insurance.

The strikes had a major impact on Allina’s bottom line last year, as the hospital hired hundreds of replacement staff members to work in the nurses’ stead. Hiring about 1,500 replacement nurses cost the system $149 million.

The costs may make providers rethink a similar strategy. Initially, experts noted that hiring the replacements allowed Allina room to draw a hard line when negotiating with the striking nurses. Seeing the strategy work could lead to a shift in power for labor negotiations to management.

RELATED: Overworked nurses, docs organize nationwide

However, the costs Allina incurred on the replacements may make healthcare leaders think twice about deploying the same approach.

Union activity has been on the rise across the country in healthcare, as clinical staff feel that a focus on profits over patient care has led to understaffed and overworked teams.