Fighting for a fair contract, RNs at St. Louis University Hospital hold candlelight vigil for patient safety

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By TIM ROWDEN
Editor-in-Chief

NURSES AND LABOR ALLIES held a candlelight vigil for patient safety Feb. 29 in front of the old Saint Louis University Hospital Building at Grand and Vista avenues (around the corner from the new hospital building) citing severe understaffing, and calling out its impact on patient safety. SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital Nurses have been working without a contract since June 15, 2023. – Labor Tribune photo

Registered nurses at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital (SLUH) held a candlelight vigil for patient safety on Feb. 29.

SLUH nurses are fighting for patient safety and a fair contract that addresses their concerns about nurse retention and recruitment. The RNs have been in contract negotiations since May 2023 with little to no movement on key issues. Their contract expired on June 15, 2023. RNs say chronic short-staffing is affecting patient care.

Over the past few months, nurses say, they have seen an increase in patient falls, pressure sores, and delays in patient care due to SLUH’s staffing crisis.

“SLUH and SSM claim to be non-profit, but it’s clear that they care more about money and power than they do patients,” said Maddi O’Leary, an RN in the bone marrow transplant clinic. “If they truly cared about patients, we would have a contract by now.

“Our hospital has an issue with turnover,” she said. “We are losing good nurses as a result and that hurts our patients.”

SLUH is a level 1 time-critical diagnosis center in stroke, heart attack, trauma and complex spine surgery, and has the only outpatient stem cell transplant program in the region.

“The St. Louis community has entrusted us with the honor of caring for some of its most vulnerable patients,” O’Leary said. “Management must recognize that losing experienced, specialized, and committed nurses is an alarming problem.”

‘WE NEED A CONTRACT’
Rather than a contract that attracts and retains nurses, Gail Wanner, an RN in behavioral health unit, said SLUH has instead focused on the use of traveling, temporary nurses and overwork of the existing nurses. The result, she said, is understaffing, delays in patient care – including a recent patient who had wait two hours for pain medication because the nurses were spread too thin, and another critically ill patient who had to be held in the emergency department because the intensive care unit was so understaffed it couldn’t take one more patient.

“We need a contract that attracts and retains permanent nurses,” Wanner said. “We need a contract that protects and adequately values nurses who are devoted to this mission.”

Wanner said SSM has intentionally prolonged contract negotiations in an effort to wear down the nurses and break the union.

“I love my patients at SLUH, but I would not want my family and loved ones being cared for in these conditions,” said Taylor Smith, an RN in the medical-surgical unit. “We are so short-staffed that we are struggling to provide even the most basic care.”

The nurses have presented several proposals and attempted to compromise, but SSM continues to refuse to address the RNs’ concerns about recruitment and retention.

SLUH RNs, represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC)/National Nurses United (NNU), held an informational picket about the issues on July 19, 2023, a one-day strike on Sept. 25, and a two-day strike from Dec. 27 to Dec. 28.

NNOC/NNU filed an Unfair Labor Practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in December against SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital for coordinating a decertification effort rather than bargaining in good faith.


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