Nurses claim staffing shortage may harm patients at county hospitals

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Negotiations continue on a contract that expired in June 2012 for registered nurses at ProMedica Herrick and Bixby Hospitals. Photo by Mickey Alvarado.

Registered nurses at ProMedica’s Bixby and Herrick Hospital have “gone public” with their concerns about staffing shortages at the local facilities, and have asked for intervention by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to assist with their concerns. The nurses issued a press release on Tuesday, Jan. 8, through the Michigan Nurses Association, which represents the nurses at both hospitals, encompassing approximately 185 nurses.

“It’s almost impossible for nurses to keep our patients safe under the conditions that ProMedica has us working in,” said Sheila Warner, RN, who works at both hospitals. “It’s a huge problem when management forces nurses to juggle six or seven patients at a time, or when we have vulnerable patients lined up in the ER hallway and not enough monitors to go around. We’ve offered solutions for months and asked ProMedica to help us keep our patients safe, but we’ve gotten nothing but inaction and retaliation in return.”

In a phone interview on Thursday, Jan. 10, she elaborated on the situation.
“Our main concern is staffing and how the ratios are getting out of hand,” said Warner. “People are so happy that we’ve finally said something about this. It’s been going on for awhile but it’s gotten worse this past year.” Warner added that management is “mandating” people to stay over on a more routine basis now.

“One weekend three weeks ago when I worked, 28 people got mandated over,” Warner said. “When we work the 12-hour shift, they can make us stay an extra four hours for a 16-hour shift, and if you work until 11 at night and you have a 6:30 a.m. shift, you still have to be in for that early morning shift.”

Warner said the issue came to the forefront during recent labor negotiations when members were asked to list their issues, and the staff shortages rose to number one. The nurses have been in contract negotiations since spring, and their contract expired in June.

“We’ve had probably 20-plus meetings regarding all the contract issues, and management has been unwilling to put safe staff ratios in the contract,” Warner said. “They have said they don’t see this as a problem.”

ProMedica issued a statement to the media regarding staffing earlier this week that said, “ProMedica’s number one priority is always patient safety. It is the cornerstone of our mission and the foundation of every decision that our organization makes. We are committed to our employees and value our relationship with the Michigan Nurses Association. We will continue to negotiate in good faith and hope to reach an agreement soon.”

Dawn Kettinger, Communications Director of the Michigan Nurses Association, said nurses met with management last on Monday, Jan. 7, and things had not yet changed since the press release was issued. Kettinger said the NLRB is an independent federal government agency vested with the power to safeguard employee rights.

Warner said the nurses feel badly at times because they are so pushed. “We don’t want to give the kind of care where we have to hurry up and rush all the time. We want to provide quality care and be able to talk with patients,” she said. “They want us to teach patients so there aren’t recurrences of their conditions, but that’s hard when you’re always short-staffed.”

Staff members see ProMedica expanding and purchasing other hospitals, and Warner said staff are aware of new equipment purchases, including a new helicopter and DaVinci robots for surgeries, such as one recently provided at Bixby. She noted that property has been purchased in Lenawee County on M-52 where the former Centerview Golf course operated.

“I don’t know when the hospital will expand out there, but they obviously have some money for these things,” Warner said. “Our issue is, if you can’t staff what you have now, how will that make things better later for staffing a larger facility?”

She said nurses feel lucky that there have been no major incidents involving patients, but the staff shortages have them concerned that mistakes might be made such as missing a patient’s medication, or mistakes in following treatment orders. Warner added that the local nurses like their jobs.

“We all live around here or in a 30-mile radius. We’re close to home and this is our community and we’re proud to live and work here,” she said. “We just want to be able to do a better job — the job we want to do — and not go home feeling guilty that we didn’t have the time to do those things we want to be able to do to provide the best care. We’re a good group of nurses and do a really good job. We’re just tired of being worked to death.”

John Karebian, executive director of the Michigan Nurses Association, said that nurses have a right and an obligation to speak up when a hospital fails to provide safe conditions for their patients. “We will not tolerate retaliation against nurses who advocate for their patients,” Karebian said. “It’s unfortunate that we had to ask the federal government to step in, but apparently that’s what it will take for ProMedica to address these problems.”




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