Before strike, nurses dispute hospitals' claims of readinessby Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Medical leaders from each of the six hospital systems said Tuesday that they are well-prepared for the one-day strike and that there's no reason for patients to worry about the quality of care they will receive that day.
But Twin Cities nurses fired back with a news conference of their own. The nurses released information on 50 patient care situations that the nurses say went awry due to unsafe staffing levels. They say it's hard to imagine that Thursday will go smoothly for replacement workers, when the regular nursing staff can barely keep up with their day-to-day responsibilities.
HOSPITALS REASSURE PUBLIC, PATIENTS
Hospital medical leaders said their primary mission on Tuesday was to reassure the public that hospitals will be able to handle Thursday's strike. There will be some disruptions for patients, but each system has taken precautions to minimize those disruptions.
North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale will have staff in place to perform all urgent surgeries and procedures. But Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Croston said the hospital is postponing all of its elective operations.
"We want to reduce the variability. While we think we have good nurses that are coming in to fill in, we really want to reduce the amount of variability, which is the way we approach every surgery, every day," Croston said.
Allina and Children's Hospitals have also reduced or eliminated elective surgeries. HealthEast said it will reschedule elective procedures if physicians and patients request it.
But Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park intends to go ahead with business as usual. So does Fairview Health Services. Dr. Jim Breitenbucher, the Vice President of Medical Affairs at Fairview, said Fairview did the same thing during a previous nurses strike.
"Our experience in 2001 was that we were able to maintain a normal census and normal activities with rare exceptions," Breitenbucher said. "We don't intend to defer any elective procedures."
The hospitals say their replacement nurses all have a minimum of two years of experience in their specialty areas. Orientation sessions are already underway to teach the new nurses about safety protocols and how to use the hospitals' medical record systems.
NURSES UNION: REPLACEMENTS WILL BE OVERWHELMED
But Twin Cities nurses say even if the replacement workers are top-notch nurses, they will be overwhelmed by what's expected of them.
The nurses' union released information today on 50 patient care situations that nurses say went awry due to unsafe staffing levels and they produced some family members of patients to back up their claims.
Bethany Gladhill is the daughter of a cancer patient who died on Christmas Day in 2006 at United Hospital in St. Paul. Gladhill said there were early signs that her mother was a little off that day, but no one was there to monitor her.
"I kind of dealt with her a little bit and then I realize that I had been there for over 3 hours, that I hadn't met the nurse for that morning, that the white board had not been changed from the nurse the night before, that I hadn't met the nurses aid," Gladhill remembered.
Gladhill said she finally tracked down someone to take her mother's vital signs. The nurse then discovered that her mother had swallowed her own vomit and had early signs of pneumonia. Gladhill said ten days later her mother died.
"Every day I can't help but think that if something had been different, if the nursing staff had been able to be in there a little bit more the way that I saw during so much of the rest of her stay, that she could have had a few more days, a few more weeks, maybe a year," she said.
The Minnesota Nurses Association said it has collected hundreds of similar stories and will begin posting them on its website to help the public understand what nurses deal with every day.
Cindy Olson, a nurse negotiator, said so far the hospitals have refused to listen to nurses or to investigate their complaints.
"We're staffed by numbers, not by acuity usually. So maybe by their standards they were okay staffed. But by me as the nurse doing the work, I can't handle the work I'm given," Olson said.
Twin Cities Hospitals knew that nurses planned to publicly discuss patient cases today.
Penny Wheeler, the chief clinical officer for Allina Hospitals and Clinics, along with other hospital executives, said that staffing issue have not contributed to any reportable adverse events in their hospitals.
"We have a very transparent and open availability for anybody who has a patient concern, be it a patient, be it a nurse, be it another care team member, to make sure they bring those concerns up and forward so we can assure that we can continually improve on the quality of care that we do," Wheeler said.
Bethany Gladwell said she didn't file a complaint over her mother's care because she didn't want nurses to be blamed when she thinks the hospital's short-staffing was the problem.
- All Things Considered, 06/08/2010, 5:25 p.m.