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McLaren Macomb nurses say they face dangerous understaffing, working conditions

SEIU Healthcare Michigan

Nurses at McLaren Macomb hospital say they’re at a crisis point, with dangerous levels of understaffing and poor working conditions that are impacting patients.

Not only are there far too many patients per nurse, says local union vice president Dina Carlisle, but so many support staff have left due to low pay that the food, cleaning, and support staff are down to just skeleton crews.

“I had a midnight hour RN tell me there’s one environmental services person for the whole house,” Carlisle said. “How is that possible?”

As a result, nurses are left to take care of soiled linens, empty trash, bring in food trays, warm up meals, as well as the work typically done by support staff, like bathing patients.

That’s just not safe when you’re caring for ICU patients, Carlisle said.

“Our patients have been so sick,” she said. “You're just running the whole shift to help these people. And God bless the straight COVID unit. They have suffered. And now they're all leaving. And some of them don't even care about more money, some are leaving for a job that's just so far less stressful.”

But the health system is pushing back, saying they’re doing what they can amidst a nationwide nursing shortage, and that the unions are only griping publicly because they’re in contract talks. 

“It is worth noting that the McLaren facilities mentioned in the press release [about nursing issues at McLaren] issued by SEIU and AFSCME labor unions are presently in negotiations with those same unions for new labor contracts,” said McLaren spokesperson Kevin Tompkins via email Wednesday.

“Equally relevant is the fact that our hospital locations that are NOT in labor discussions are tackling many of the same challenges without dispute with their employees and union representatives.”

The McLaren health system has filled more than 2,000 positions in just the last three months, Tompkins said. 

“Like many other health systems, all McLaren’s hospital facilities are experiencing shortages in key personnel in areas to include Environmental Services and other support areas. We are working diligently to recruit, hire and retain workforce members in these areas to reduce and eliminate these shortages.”

During the pandemic, McLaren offered “incentives for extra shifts and employee appreciation bonuses,” as well as “up to 80 hours of PTO for employees who test positive for work-related COVID exposures.”

But Carlisle said some of the workers who got sick on the job are now seeing their worker’s comp denied.

“We had no PPE, we had no hazard pay, and we're working and picking up and helping each other do everything. Nurses were sick everywhere. And when they deny the comp for those people, that is such a slap on the face, I can't even tell you.

“There's so many things going on at McLaren, that if they don't come up with their staffing matrix [to increase workers] we’re going to take a strike vote. And it’s not going to go well for them, to make it very clear.”

Since the start of the pandemic, federal regulators have opened 16 investigationsinto multiple McLaren locations, two of which are still ongoing. Inspectors found six health and safety violations in total, spread across McLaren Port Huron, McLaren Bay Region, McLaren Flint, and the McLaren Health Management Group.  

And back in February, state regulators fined McLaren Port Huron $6,300 for serious COVID-related safety violations, including:

“...not conducting a daily self-screening protocol for employees working onsite, not keeping everyone on the worksite premises at least 6 feet from one another to the maximum extent possible,and not requiring face coverings to be worn when employees could not consistently maintain 6 feet of separation from other individuals. “An other-than-serious citation with no monetary penalty was issued for not creating a policy prohibiting in-person work for employees, and not maintaining a record of screening protocols for each employee or visitor entering the workplace. The inspection was in response to an employee complaint.”

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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