Not very long ago nurses were earning praise for their commitment and dedication during the worse of the pandemic. Now nurses around the US are holding strikes, protesting deteriorating working conditions and severe understaffing issues.
For over four months, more than 700 nurses at the Tenet Healthcare-owned Saint Vincent hospital have been on strike, the second-longest nurses’ strike in Massachusetts’ history. The hospital has brought in replacement workers throughout the strike and have spent more than $30,000 a day on police coverage during the strike.
Dominique Muldoon, a nurse for more than 20 years at Saint Vincent’s hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, explains, “Most of us felt like we went from heroes to zeroes quickly.” Nurses had worked through breaks and past scheduled shifts to try to ensure patient care. Understaffing and cuts were the “new normal” at the hospital.
Marlena Pellegrino, a nurse at Saint Vincent hospital, said, We worked through some very tumultuous times where our employer could have stepped up to assist us instead of being an obstacle in our way of trying to care for our patients.”
In Chicago, about 300 nurses at Community First medical center held a one-day strike on 26 July over hospital failures during the pandemic and new contract negotiations.
Kathy Haff, an emergency room nurse at Community First medical center for 29 years, explained the hospital lost a significant number of nurses on staff during the pandemic, including three nurses who died from the virus, and now nurses are working severely understaffed and with inadequate equipment to perform their duties.
“They don’t appreciate us. They claim to, but they don’t. They just take advantage of us left and right,” said Haff. “We’re working at half staff basically. They don’t care that we’re short. They just keep loading us up and keep criticizing if you’re not moving fast enough. There is no appreciation. All those ‘healthcare heroes’ signs were garbage. We didn’t believe one bit of them. We’re like, yeah whatever. We’re like healthcare suckers because they didn’t protect us.”
1,400 nurses at USC Keck hospital and USC Norris Cancer hospital in Los Angeles held a two-day strike on 13 and 14 July over understaffing and patient safety concerns.
Thousands of nurses represented by National Nurses United at hospitals throughout California and Texas held a day of action on 21 July to call attention to workplace issues highlighted by the pandemic.
Juan Anchondo, a nurse for nearly 18 years at Las Palmas medical center in El Paso, Texas, explained staffing issues at his hospital have worsened throughout the pandemic as nearby hospitals have lured workers away with bonuses and better pay, and support nurses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) left several months ago after assisting with Covid-19 surges in the region.
“People don’t take breaks,” said Anchondo. “One of the things we’re trying to negotiate is a relief break nurse..."
Kimberly Smith, an ICU nurse for 12 years at the Corpus Christi medical center in Texas, said unsafe staffing was a prevailing issue in new union contract negotiations but that these important issues to nurses have fallen by the wayside for the sake of profits and public relations campaigns asserting nurses are heroes for working on the frontlines during the pandemic and empty thank you events where nurses were given free hotdogs.
“I just want to be safe at work. I don’t need a hotdog. You’re telling me I’m a hero and how wonderful I am. Just make the working conditions safe. That’s all nurses want. We want to feel like we’re able to give the best care we can and have enough resources to do it,” said Smith, who added that nurses regularly skip breaks because there is no staff to relieve them. ‘‘Even before the pandemic the staffing wasn’t this bad. It’s been a horrible year. Nurses have passed away, are getting out of the profession, they’re retiring.”