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Nurses to picket Michigan Medicine over staffing shortages, other grievances

Michigan Medicine nurses rally in 2018 over contract impasse
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Michigan Medicine nurses rally in 2018 over contract impasse

Michigan Medicine's 6,200-member nurse's union is holding an informational picket and rally on Saturday, to inform the public about what nurses say are serious staffing shortages that affect patient care.

The union has been working without a contract since July 1.

Becca Hija is a registered nurse in the emergency department. She said there are often extremely long waits for care, either in the emergency room or in upstairs inpatient units.

"Everything including our hallways is full," she said, "but a lot of it is just the short staff that they have upstairs."

Hija says the long waits have a number of deleterious effects on patients, who are often in pain and misery. Some with mental health issues may wander outside. Frustration levels can boil over.

"We are trying our hardest to take care of our patients," Hija said. "I really hope people can maybe take a step back before screaming at us, and kind of understand our situation in the emergency department a little bit. We are doing the absolute best that we can."

Michigan Medicine said it has offered nurses significant pay raises in a new four-year contract offer, as well as an end to mandatory overtime within two years.

The hospital system said its nurse vacancy rate is much lower than the national average — 5% compared to 17%.

“Our nurses are the backbone of our health system,” said Nancy May, chief nursing executive, a nurse herself for 47 years. “Our outstanding nurses are a key reason we have been able to achieve outstanding quality scores from CMS, Leapfrog Safety Grade and U.S. News & World Report, positioning us as the safest hospital in the state of Michigan."

“I could not be prouder of our nurses and the care they provide. Because we deeply value our nurses, we’ve put together a generous package that recognizes the value they bring to our patients and our organization,” she said.

In a statement, the Michigan Nurses Association said the staffing situation at Michigan Medicine is similar to hospital systems elsewhere in Michigan.

"Hospitals across the state have been using dangerous nurse understaffing and forced overtime for years and patients are paying the price now more than ever. There is no shortage of available RNs in Michigan — only a shortage of those willing to work in the unsafe conditions that hospitals have created," the association said.

"When nurses are stretched too thin, we see more patients suffering preventable falls, infections, and even deaths," the statement continued. "Every patient deserves the skilled care of a registered nurse who has enough time to keep them safe in the hospital, first and foremost, and that's what nurses are fighting for at the University of Michigan and across the state."

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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