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Nurses blocked from entering Austin’s Ascension Seton Medical Center after strike

 A group of people hold a sign that says "Don't mess with Texas nurses."
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Nurses at Austin’s Ascension Seton Medical Center went on strike Tuesday. They say current workloads are causing burnout.

After a daylong strike, unionized nurses attempted to enter Ascension Seton Medical Center on Wednesday morning to work scheduled shifts and were turned away by security.

A group of the nurses walked together to the hospital’s south entrance, where the doors were blocked by a row of folding tables. Several security guards met the group as the nurses arrived.

“As of right now, you’re not authorized to work, so y’all are going to have to leave,” one guard said.

Two women face security guards.
Olivia Aldridge
/
KUT
Nurses Kristine Kittelson (left) and Vanessa Villarreal approach security at Ascension Seton on Wednesday morning.

In the front of the group was Kristine Kittelson, a nurse who works with mothers and babies at the hospital. She pushed back, noting that no one had individually checked their badges to ensure they were the nurses on strike.

“How do you know? Is it because we’re here together?” Kittelson said. “How do you differentiate between whether we were here or not yesterday?”

After a brief exchange in which security held firm on their position, the group turned around and left the hospital premises. As the nurses walked away, they chanted, “We’ll be back, we’ll be back.”

Ascension released a statement prior to Tuesday’s strike saying they had contracted with a staffing agency to provide temporary nursing staff during the strike. The hospital said it was contractually required to commit to a minimum of four days of work for those temporary staffers.

“Ascension Seton would prefer not to have to utilize these extended contracted services, particularly given the current challenges the health care industry, including our ministry, is facing, but we must make every provision for ensuring the health and safety of our patients, families, providers and associates,” the hospital said in the statement.

National Nurses United, the nurses’ union, called the additional three-day lockout “a deliberate ploy to intimidate nurses from speaking out.”

The organization has held the position that their goal in striking is to secure a contract that promotes patient care alongside improved conditions for nurses through measures like lowering nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. NNU members said they intended to keep their strike to a single day to minimize impacts to patients. They said patients would be in capable hands with the temporary staff Ascension secured but would receive better care from the nurses who are experienced at the facility.

“It’s safer for us to be in there,” Kittelson told KUT. “We know our facility, we know our hospital, we know our orders. This is the safe option, and they are denying us access.”

NNU said nurses who went on strike yesterday at two Ascension-owned hospitals in Wichita, Kansas, were likewise stopped from working today. The unionized nurses in both Kansas and Texas will hold a “back to work rally” on Saturday, July 1, when they return for their scheduled shifts.

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Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at oaldridge@kut.org. Follow her on X @ojaldridge.
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