I was in the hospital for a month recently. I was able to see the conditions that nurses were working under. It was bad. I am 100% behind their efforts to fight for their rights, which were gearing up even while I was hospitalized: Nurses were carrying signs through the halls, going places with them, wearing buttons, talking about things. This has been prolonged and their signs are now all over town.
Earlier this month, Seven Days VT published an article called Nurses, UVM Medical Center Remain At Odds Over Contract which said:
Amidst a tense contract bargaining negotiation, nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center announced at a press conference Friday morning that they had filed a complaint against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board. The nurses allege twenty labor violations, including unlawful unilateral changes to staffing grids and unlawful ordering of employees to remove union buttons.
Julie MacMillan, a registered nurse and the union’s lead negotiator, said the nurses feel the community should be aware of the problems at the hospital. She said in past negotiation cycles, when the hospital was not in as good financial standing, nurses took cost of living adjustments so that they could keep serving the community. But now, as the hospital reaps enormous contract margins, she said the nurses have had enough. MacMillan said the union has been inspired by the successes of other labor movements across the country.
I hope they meet all of their goals. The conditions they’re expected to work under are ridiculous. They are right: This is a safety issue, both for nurses and for patients. I constantly saw nurses having to fight just to do their jobs under the amount of work they were expected to do. All the ones I saw were trying very hard to help all their patients, and couldn’t. One said she spends half her time on the job not doing nursing care, but ironing out problems caused by the hospital bureaucracy. Watching her, I believe it.
And the conditions really are dangerous to patients — I was frequently in danger not because of malice or indifference, but because they were having to spread themselves too thin. Which results in things like not noticing I take seizure medications. Or one situation where I could no longer perform a small but vitally important medical task I normally do for myself, a nurse offered to do it for me, and I had to explain to her that I greatly appreciated the offer but that there was no way she had the time or resources necessary to do it. Most of the dangers I faced from the hospital this time were tied in some way to short staffing, not to anything malicious on the part of the staff. Who went out of their way to help as many patients as they could as thoroughly as they could, but nobody’s superhuman, and the long hours and lack of sufficient staffing take a serious toll. Nonetheless, people were being their own small, quiet versions of Vasili Arkhopov every day — following their consciences even when it might be easier not to, and profoundly affecting, even saving, lives as a result.
Which is why there are signs everywhere that read NURSES FOR SAFE STAFFING and the like.
Safe, if you’re wondering, means patients don’t risk death or serious harm from the lack of adequate staffing. The nurses I met this stay were almost all amazing, dedicated, and trying their hardest. But without enough of them, without the resources to do their jobs, that’s just not enough.
I really, really hope their negotiations succeed.