Registered nurse Matthew Calzia works 12-hour shifts in the ICU at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, where he cares for critically ill patients. Calzia says that due to staffing shortages over the past few years, he and his fellow nurses have consistently worked at a frantic pace and skipped breaks in order to provide patients with the care they need.
A few weeks ago, nurses at both Sacred Heart hospitals launched a public awareness campaign to tell the community that they feel PeaceHealth administrators are not responding to their concerns over patient safety and understaffing.
“As nurses, our number one priority is patient care,” Calzia says. “At times, it makes nurses very nervous because we feel so short-staffed.”
In a Nov. 24 letter to the PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center Governing Board, the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), which represents the approximately 1,400 nurses that work for Sacred Heart, expressed its concern that new language added during the union’s most recent contract negotiations to help address the staffing shortage was not being implemented.
The letter says that since mid-June of this year, nurses reported 47 cases of mandatory overtime, and Sacred Heart leads the state in numbers of staffing shortages reported through Staffing Request and Document Forms, “with 104 incidents documented since contract bargaining ended [in late July].”
Lynda Pond, a nurse and co-chair of the executive committee for the ONA at Sacred Heart RiverBend, says that understaffing issues at the hospital became problematic after Sacred Heart brought in Huron Consulting and laid off about 100 certified nursing assistants (CNAs) around three years ago. She says now Sacred Heart has started hiring, but more nurses and CNAs are leaving, resulting in “just filling the holes.”
Pond also points out that most of the newly hired nurses are temporary nurses or “new grads fresh out of school,” and it takes at least a few months to go through orientation and training. Calzia says that nurses with years of experience are invaluable on the hospital floor, and “when you have a lot of new nurses and travel nurses plus very sick patients, it’s not associated with great outcomes.”
Maureen Smith, a labor representative for ONA, says the union would like the administration to listen to the nurses’ concerns and allow nurses to do their job while still finding time to eat. “Really, we’re looking for staffing to a level that allows nurses to provide quality, not just safe, but high-quality patient care.”
In a written statement, Sacred Heart RiverBend Chief Administrative Officer Rand O’Leary says that Sacred Heart takes “concerns about adequate staffing very seriously” and is “committed to doing our best to address such concerns in real time.”
He says that Sacred Heart has been working on staffing issues for the past year, but unprecedented levels of long-term patients have hindered progress. O’Leary adds, “There’s still work to be done, but the picture painted by the ONA campaign does not fairly represent the real progress that is being made.”
Sacred Heart Riverbend reported a profit of $41 million in 2013.
Calzia says it’s important for people to know that nurses aren’t asking for more money. “All we want is to care for our community,” he says. “The hospital has made a profit, but there’s an expense to these profits, and we have to make sure that patients are still coming first.”