On Wednesday, May 31, frontline nurses and healthcare workers from Sunrise, MountainView and Southern Hills Hospitals, all owned by corporate giant HCA Healthcare, will hold a “Speak Out for Safe Staffing and Quality Care”. Frontline workers say they are struggling with a spiraling crisis of dangerous understaffing, turnover and burnout, all of which were severely aggravated by the pandemic. Tensions have boiled over because HCA Healthcare, which is the largest hospital corporation in America, made profits of more than $16 billion in the past three years but has not invested those massive resources in safe staffing nlevels and retaining and recruiting workers so they can provide quality care to their patients. The action is being held as the union contract covering 4,700 workers at the three HCA hospitals is set to expire at midnight that day. Workers say they are more united, determined and fired up than ever before to dramatically increase their actions if an agreement is not reached.
“In the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, ideal patient-to-nurse staffing should be two patients each to ensure safety, but we often have three acutely ill patients, which is inexcusable,” said Mike Forson, who has been a registered nurse at Sunrise Hospital for over 15 years. “I served as a medic in the Air Force for more than a decade and then became a nurse because I am called to serve my country and my community. But with severe and preventable understaffing, HCA workers are not able to give the safe, quality care that our patients deserve, especially our most vulnerable population, children. Some of my young patients are so medically fragile that they could die from just an extended period of crying. They need highly personalized, compassionate, attentive care. So I’m speaking out on behalf of the children I care for and calling on HCA executives to make all patients the priority above everything else.”
For the past few months, workers represented by SEIU Local 1107 have been negotiating with HCA executives for a new union contract that includes key provisions to improve staffing, retention, recruitment and worker well-being. The workers include registered nurses, nursing assistants, techs, lab workers, environmental service workers and many other vital job classifications.
“At HCA, we’re still struggling with the effects of the pandemic and are facing a crisis of extreme short staffing and turnover,” said Zavia Norman, who has been a respiratory therapist at Sunrise Hospital for 16 years. “I’m sometimes responsible for up to 40 patients in a shift and almost half of the coworkers in my department are new hires. During the pandemic, we saw our patients and coworkers dying around us. I saw colleagues have mental breakdowns. I was terrified of bringing the virus home to my children. Through all of those hardships, I’ve remained committed to this job because I love people, and I’m always thinking about how to create better outcomes for my patients and community. But when we’re understaffed and overloaded, it’s so stressful for us and our patients suffer. It’s past time for HCA to invest their enormous profits into valuing frontline staff so we can provide the care our patients need.”
Many studies have proven that understaffing in hospitals can lead to increased medical errors, infections, patient falls and deaths. A report released earlier this year by SEIU, the nation’s largest union of healthcare workers, reveals systemic low staffing at HCA is contributing to a patient care crisis in Nevada and nationwide. The report, which analyzes federal Medicare data, shows that:
Staffing levels at HCA’s Nevada hospitals are 34% lower than the national average.
A survey of SEIU nurses and other frontline workers at HCA hospitals found that 80% of surveyed workers reported witnessing patient care being jeoparadized by short-staffing.
HCA hospitals have performed worse than average on key patient care quality indicators, including death from pneumonia, as well as patient satisfaction scores.
“HCA Healthcare called us heroes during the pandemic, but is taking advantage of us by keeping us understaffed and under-resourced, even though the corporation is hugely profitable and our hospitals are full,” said Adrian Martinez, who has been a registered nurse at Southern Hills Hospital for 11 years. “I went into nursing because I always wanted to help people, and this profession gives me a sense of purpose. It was especially fulfilling to take care of my community during the pandemic. But it was also exhausting and terrifying working in the intensive care unit and trying to save hundreds of Covid patients. My three sons were one, four and five years old at the time and I had to avoid them for months to keep them safe. We need to hold HCA executives accountable so they finally address the impact of the pandemic and the root causes of employee burnout and turnover. We must have policies that promote our well-being, retain us and ensure we’re fully staffed so we can provide safe care.”