A recent survey conducted by the Service Employees International Union finds 89% of polled nurses and healthcare workers at HCA Healthcare felt being short-staffed at their hospital is “compromising patient care.” Nearly as many, 83%, reported that their floor or unit didn’t have the right level of staff. The findings were even more stark in California where 96% of respondents agreed that “short staffing at my hospital is compromising patient care.”
The survey conducted from December 13 to January 10 included responses from more than 1,500 SEIU nurses and healthcare workers at HCA hospitals in California, Florida, Missouri, Kansas, Nevada and Texas.
Responding to the survey, HCA Healthcare Far West Division spokesperson, Antonio Castelan, enumerated actions the organization has taken to keep staff and patients safe while accusing the union of sowing division.
He noted that the health system is focusing on retention; aggressively recruiting to fill open positions; providing incentive pay for nurses, such as bonuses in key areas and at critical times, especially when Covid-19 is surging; and having an ample supply of personal protective equipment available.
“Our hospitals are committed to the highest level of safety and comply with government staffing regulations despite the national nursing shortage that all healthcare systems face as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” Castelan said in an email. “Our nurses and medical staffs are heroes, making countless personal sacrifices to ensure the well-being of all of our communities during the past two years. Our priority always is to provide the care our patients need with the right level of care providers necessary to ensure their health.”
However, Castelan charged that union leaders were promoting “divisive and self-serving propaganda at this time when everyone needs to work together to combat the coronavirus.”
But SEIU said HCA has not been responsive in addressing staffing issues to safeguard those caring for patients.
“Frontline nurses and healthcare workers have been demanding solutions to the short-staffing crisis at HCA (since) well before this pandemic,” said SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry in a statement forwarded by a representative. “They’ve spoken out for patients at the bargaining table and strike line and in their communities time and time again.”
As the pandemic tests hospital capacity, the union said 68% of SEIU nurses and healthcare workers polled indicated their hospital wasn’t prepared for the next Covid-19 surge and that patient care would be compromised. Many felt staff shortages were putting patients and clinicians in harm’s way. In all, 76% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I feel my facility’s leadership does not take adequate action to address the needs of frontline nurses or healthcare workers like myself.” Sixty-three percent reported that because of short staffing and burnout, they felt they had to find a new job or profession.
Some clinicians are speaking out publicly.
“As a respiratory therapist, I have seen firsthand the effects both the Delta and Omicron variant can have on the vaccinated and unvaccinated,” Zavia Norma at HCA-affiliated Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center in Las Vegas, said in a statement provided by SEIU. “The high infection rate of Omicron is making all of us worry about the ability to do our jobs while being significantly short-staffed. This is not sustainable.”
Hospital staffing shortages are being reported nationwide and many health systems are being further challenged by staff illness due to Covid-19. Nearly all large hospitals continue to report difficult getting adequate nurse coverage, and clinical staff shortages remained even as hospitals saw patient volumes decrease, according to a November McKinsey & Company report. Meanwhile staff burnout and resignation is also rampant.
And SEIU leaders put the onus on health systems to urgently address staffing shortages.
“The question is, when are for-profit healthcare corporations like HCA going to finally put patients and healthcare workers first?” Henry said. “If not now, in the midst of this pandemic, then when?”
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