Health care staffs face critical stage

In January, state Rep. Martin Causer and Rep. Kathy Rapp hosted a legislative hearing on Rural Healthcare Disparities, with the purported goal of overcoming them. Preceeding this hearing, nurses throughout the Commonwealth have advocated within hospitals as well as at state and national levels regarding unsafe nurse staffing.

As a flight nurse who has been in most of the hospitals from I-15 to I-79, and from the Pennsylvania Turnpike to I-90 in New York, I joined my voice to that of Anne Hardy, former Emergency Room Director at Bradford Regional Medical Center in describing our experiences and voicing our concerns regarding leadership practices both at the hospital level and the state level. Since that time, Rapp has stated she has not heard any situations of unsafe staffing causing harm, which begs the question of whether she paid any attention at all to the testimony presented, or if she is intentionally lying regarding the point? In either case, she, along with the legislature and the governor, handed hospital administrators what they wanted: a bailout without strings attached.

To be fair, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant financial strain upon hospitals and staff. However, in regard to the staff, much of the strain could have been alleviated if evidence-based measures presented by staff-level nurses had been enacted.

She stated during the hearing that she believes staffing issues should be resolved between the staff and facilities, but in these situations the facilities have traditionally held all of the power.

Only as a result of the pandemic increasing the demand for travel nursing to counter the fluidity of demand for nursing staff have nurses held the bargaining power, and now the hospitals are crying “foul” to the point of pushing for the U.S. Congress to investigate and cap nursing salaries.

Prior to this, healthcare staff were leaving their respective professions altogether, with a 2019 study showing there would be an estimated additional 500,000 nursing jobs remaining open by the end of 2022. Instead, we saw that number of healthcare staff across the professions leave in 1 month in August of 2021. Many other staff left their positions for travel positions.

Warren General Hospital President Rick Allen in particular decried the salaries of travel nurses during the hearing. This disconnect between the care being able to be provided by staff and the level to which we are trained is one cause of nurse dissatisfaction that has expedited nurses leaving toxic work environments to be able to be compensated more adequately for the situations in which they are placed. These situations include watching patients die due inability to receive appropriate care, added workload from administrators not in touch with the true situation “on the ground”, work that intrudes on personal time, loss of benefits while administrators receive bonuses, and physical and emotional assault.

Nurses no longer ask “which of your loved ones have to die before things change” because we know that the blame will come back on us, despite our efforts to change the situation. Instead, we are belittled for “leaving our patients and colleagues hanging,” despite us remaining in our respective professions. Officials have ignored the concerns and efforts of one of the most trusted professions consistently for decades. As a resident of rural northwestern Pennsylvania, I have made known to EMS staff that if I ever enter into dire straits and require transport to a hospital, that if the staff is unable to transport me to Erie, Rochester, or Pittsburgh, that they should be more humane and kill me outright than subject me to the “care” offered by hospitals in this region.

By ignoring the concerns of the staff level individuals actually providing the care for which hospitals bill and who provide the tax base upon which you depend, you are decidedly working against not only yourselves, but also the patients and constituents of our region.

Stop listening to the “experts” and bureaucratic administrators, and start listening to those who understand the problem and are working to alleviate the situation. Give health-care staff a light at the end of the tunnel.

Work with us to create the revenue generating units for which hospitals and other facilities can charge for the care we provide and thus improve the quality of care provided, which will in turn improve the financial footing of organizations by drawing in more patients. Hold insurance organizations accountable for reducing reimbursements and creating record profits for themselves. Hold hospital administrators accountable for not ensuring quality care. And pass the legislation we need to be able to protect not only our healthcare workers, but also our patients.

Christopher Benson is a Turtlepoint, Pa.


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