For the last several months, there has been an increasing shortage of nursing staff in many locations around the world. The United Kingdom was one of the first regions to deal with this predicament, as a significant number of veteran nursing personnel have been quitting the trade in droves. According to an article featured in The Guardian’s website, the number of nurses and midwives migrating to Britain from other parts of Europe in search of better job opportunities has dropped by about 89% ever since the Brexit vote to leave the European Union passed.
This sudden decrease in incoming nursing staff was also met with a vast number of veteran nurses abandoning the profession in the UK, from 2,435 professionals in the 2015-16 period to 4,067 in what has transpired of the current year, an increase of almost 67%. In American soil, this problem has also become apparent, as disputes between nursing personnel and public hospitals, alongside the mass walkout of nurses from public institutions escalate.
A Domestic Dispute
The disputes between nurses and hospitals in the United States is gaining momentum. In the state of Michigan, alone, there have been several key events that have fanned the flames on conflicts between both parties. Starting with a mass walkout of nursing personnel in Marquette, followed by a public dispute between administrative and nursing personnel of the Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in the Township of Commerce, and the subsequent formation of unions in two hospitals in a short period of 18 months. Through these pivotal events, the unconformity of nurses has become more than apparent. The causes of these events, like those in foreign territory, are widely varied. Just like in the UK, better wages are among the top demands solicited by nurses, but it also, by far, is not the most important.
The source of the disputes revolves around the nurses’ wishes to labor in more secure workplaces, where the overtime is voluntary and not mandatory like it currently is. Furthermore, the shortage of new nursing staff is also an important source of distress among the caregivers, as there is not enough manpower to satisfy the demands of all the patients, prompting nurses to continuously work shifts longer than 12 hours to meet the requirements.
One of the most important demands that nursing personnel is striving to achieve is the hiring of additional personnel so that patients can receive quality care, while the caregivers are not forced to sacrifice life and limb for the cause. Furthermore, more personnel could allow nurses to focus on caregiving, instead of performing housekeeping and patient transportation duties, which they currently do at the moment.
In an effort to shed a light on the nurses’ plight, Crain’s, a Detroit-based news website interviewed several nursing personnel, most of whom are locked in disputes and contract negotiations, and also belong to several unions.
The first interviewee, Scott Balko, works as an OR nurse at the UP Health System-Marquette. The caregiver expressed that the most important issue that nursing personnel is currently facing is the mandatory overtime in place due to the mass influx of patients. Said overtime is caused by staff shortages, as well as due to a system that, through its poor working conditions, dissuades potential nurses from applying for the openings.
Balko ensures that there is simply not enough personnel to cover the patients’ demands and that the huge shortage in existing staff is putting not only otheir wellbeing in risk but also that of the patients’. In a bold analogy, Balko ended the interview expressing that there are no rules to regulate overtime in nurses like there are in other occupations, such as truck drivers.
Another interviewee, Stephanie DePetro, who labors at the same facility as Balko above, expressed that another important issue when it comes to nursing disputes is the lack of regulation on the number of patients that each nurse can treat. Simply put, there are no rules in place to limit said number, so any given nurse could, in theory, care for an infinite number of patients, should it come to that. Besides being obviously impossible, this fact also adds to the degrading nursing work environment, and serve to strengthen the caregivers’ unconformity with the system.
In response to the mass walkouts and discontent, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has expressed that, up until 2022, there will be at least 100,000 job openings for registered nurses, both new and veteran, to find a place to lend their services. Nevertheless, according to Judy Moore, a step-down and intensive-care unit nurses working at the DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in Commerce Charter Township, the problem might not be so simply resolved by just creating more opening for nursing personnel. She reasons that the cause behind the shortage of caregivers might not be solely due to the lack of openings, but might have more to do with poor work conditions, which discouraged new graduates to seek employment in public health institutions.
As the disputes escalate, so do the problems in important Michigan health facilities. Earlier this year, in November, the Huron Valley nurses union published a report spanning 38 pages, in which there are around 240 cases of poor patient care brought about by insufficient personnel available. The report was followed by a request to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs demanding the opening of an investigation in the area to research the claims of alleged public health code violations.
A Simple Solution
Despite the many issues affecting the working conditions of many nurses in Michigan, and the country, in general, most of them agree that the solution lies in securing better work conditions in public health institutions. It is clear that there is not a shortage of registered nurses, as a significant number of professional caregivers complete their studies and graduate every year. By securing safe working conditions, proper reimbursement, and reasonable shifts, there won’t be a need to scour for new personnel to fill the gap; the nurses will return in droves to lend their services.
As Marge Calarco, the CNO of the University of Michigan said, safe staffing of nursing personnel could ensure that enough caregivers will sign up to lend their services and that the patients will receive proper treatment in a cost-effective way. Similarly, through improved work conditions, the nurses, both new and veteran alike, will feel respected and that they are being properly valued for the services they provide to the community.