‘Staff Up!’ Registered nurses at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital take part in National Day of Action for safe staffing

RNs say “Enough is enough,” demand hospital put patient safety first


DEMANDING SAFE STAFFING registered nurses at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital rallied outside the hospital June 13 to demand the hospital address unsafe staffing levels. – Labor Tribune photo

St. Louis – Nurses at SSM Health St. Louis University (SLU) Hospital joined thousands of registered nurse members of National Nurses United (NNU) June 13 in a national Day of Action, demanding their employers address the current nationwide staffing crisis.

“It’s not really fair for us to ask the patients and families when they’re at their most vulnerable states to ‘be patient with us. We’re short-staffed,’” said Rachel Williams, a registered nurse at SLU hospital.

“We’re asking for more nurses to take care of the community, safer ratios, more security within the hospital so that the staff can be safe against disgruntled patients and families because we’re not getting to them in time because of the nurse/patient ratio.”

NNU says the so-called “nursing shortage” is a myth. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, there are more than four million actively licensed RNs, but only three million are currently employed.

There is not a shortage of nurses, the union says, but a reluctance on the part of hospitals to hire enough full-time nurses.

“Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in workplace violence, and we know this violence is directly related to the short staffing in our hospital,” said Jessica Tulk, a registered nurse who works in the hospital’s emergency department.

“As patients and their loved ones are forced to wait for treatment and medications, they can become agitated, confused, angry, and anxious,” Tulk said. “If we have appropriate staffing, we can de-escalate tense situations or calm confused patients before the trouble starts. That means we need to have enough nurses on the floors at all times. That is what our patients deserve, and that is what the hospital is morally and legally obligated to provide for our community.”

SLU Hospital’s vacancy rate has been nearly 40 percent for three years.

SSM Health has started hiring traveling nurses to fill vacancies, but nurses say that creates additional problems for the staff nurses who have to train them.

“They don’t know our population as well. They don’t know our hospital as well,” Tulk said. “They’re getting paid twice what we’re getting paid, and we’re doing the work of training them. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot better if we could just treat staff nurses fairly and respectfully pay them for the job that we’re asking them to do?” 

“We are saying, ‘Enough is enough’ to our employers who push us to our breaking point with chronic short-staffing and insufficient resources to provide the highest quality of care to our patients,” said Deborah Burger, RN, a president of NNU.

“We are tired of the hospital industry’s excuses. We know there are enough nurses to meet the demand, there is just a lack of will on the part of the hospital industry to staff appropriately because they prioritize profits over patient care. We are very clear that our number one focus must be to provide the highest quality of care to each and every patient.”

NNU says the hospital industry created the current staffing crisis through its own bad practices of routinely short-staffing units and driving away nurses who refuse to tolerate the moral distress and moral injury suffered from working in untenable, unconscionable, and unsafe work environments.

2,000 Ascension nurses will strike June 27

Nurses demanding strong contracts to combat unsafe staffing practices 

REGISTERED NURSES from a hospital in Texas and two in Kansas hand-delivered a strike notice at Ascension Health’s corporate headquarters in St. Louis on June 15. The nurses at each of the hospitals are scheduled to go on a one-day strike June 27 to demand fair contracts that combat unsafe staffing practices. – National Nurses United photo







Two days after nurses at St. Louis University Hospital participated in a nationwide Day of Action demanding safe staffing levels, registered nurses at three Ascension hospitals in Kansas and Texas hand-delivered a strike notice June 15 at Ascension headquarters in St. Louis and rallied to pressure executives to reverse unsafe staffing practices that prioritize profits over patient safety.

The nurses will participate in historic one-day strike at Ascension via Christi St. Joseph Hospital and Ascension via Christi St. Francis Hospital, both in Wichita, Kan., and Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas on June 27 to protest the health care giant’s refusal to address its endemic staffing crisis, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU).

“We feel like we have no other choice but to escalate things to a strike and remind Ascension that without the nurses there’s no hospital,” said Taylor Crittendon, an RN at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas. who attended the St. Louis rally told the Labor Tribune.

Crittendon said nurses at her hospital have been in negotiations with Ascension for eight months and have provided 45 proposals to address short-staffing and patient safety. So far, Ascension has agreed to three.

“That is an unacceptably slow process,” she said, “and the patients have suffered. They have allowed dangerous, intolerable nursing conditions that put patients’ lives at risk every day.”

NNU said during contract negotiations, management has dismissed nurses’ solutions for safe staffing protections and nurse recruitment and retention, both critical factors for ensuring patient safety. 

“We simply don’t’ have enough hands on the floor,” Crittendon said. “We have to choose between a patient that has soiled themselves and is bed bound and a patient that is confused and keeps trying to get out of the bed and could fall and the patient who needs support getting ready to go into surgery and, unfortunately, it’s that patient who suffers.”

Nurses said they hope the strike notice and rally will pressure executives to reverse unsafe staffing practices that prioritize profits over patient safety.


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