That’s the provocative title of a Working Paper newly posted on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).
The answer, in a word, is “yes.”
The co-authors of the paper, which focuses on strikes by nurses in New York between 1984 and 2004, are Jonathan Gruber and Samuel A. Kleiner. Gruber is an MIT economist who was in the news recently as an advocate of President Obama’s health care plan. Kleiner is a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon.
NBER papers require a paid subscription, except for journalists and some others. But here is the summary:
Concerns over the impacts of hospital strikes on patient welfare led to substantial delay in the ability of hospitals to unionize. Once allowed, hospitals unionized rapidly and now represent one of the largest union sectors of the U.S. economy. Were the original fears of harmful hospital strikes realized as a result? In this paper we analyze the effects of nurses’ strikes in hospitals on patient outcomes. We utilize a unique dataset collected on nurses’ strikes over the 1984 to 2004 period in New York State, and match these strikes to a restricted use hospital discharge database which provides information on treatment intensity, patient mortality and hospital readmission. Controlling for hospital specific heterogeneity, patient demographics and disease severity, the results show that nurses’ strikes increase in-hospital mortality by 19.4% and 30-day readmission by 6.5% for patients admitted during a strike, with little change in patient demographics, disease severity or treatment intensity. This study provides some of the first analytical evidence on the effects of health care strikes on patients, and suggests that hospitals functioning during nurses’ strikes are doing so at a lower quality of patient care.