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Duluth nurses poised to strike

After an August vote authorizing a one-day strike, the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA)  has informed Essentia Health that over 900 nurses plan to strike on Tuesday, September 14. The nurses and hospital system are at odds over what the union calls patient safety and staffing issues. One nurse was quoted in an MNA press release as saying, “We can’t handle another three years of one nurse taking care of 8,9 or even 12 patients at once. Neither can our patients. How many more patients have to sit in their own stool because nobody can answer their call light? How many more patients need to wait and wait and wait for pain medication because there’s no nurse available to administer it?”

The nurses seek the ability to refuse unsafe patient assignments and to temporarily close a hospital unit during an unsafe staffing situation. According to the MNA, nurses in the Twin Cities — in the same state — have  been able to do so for years.

Not everyone is impressed with the nurses’ stance, though. A recent letter to editor, published in the Duluth News Tribune, takes nurses to task:

“I absolutely cannot fathom the idea of allowing registered nurses to shut down admissions to a unit because there were not, in their opinion, enough registered nurses on the job. They definitely need to be introduced to the word ‘triage’,” wrote Michael Walke of Duluth. “At the 7th Surgical Hospital in Vietnam, a unit of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, my thanks went out to those nurses who, in spite of overwhelming incoming casualties, took them all in and cared for them…I suggest these nurses watch a number of “M*A*S*H” reruns. Then they might realize that nursing isn’t just about them, but really is about the patients they are sworn to care for… Clara Barton would hang her head in shame at the attitude of today’s registered nurses.”

What do you think? Are the Duluth nurses behaving selfishly? Do nurses risk alienating the public with strikes? How many patients do YOU typically care for during a shift?


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Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN

Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.

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7 Responses to Duluth nurses poised to strike

  1. Maureen Clark

    Those nurses in Duluth are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! First of all, nurses aren’t volunteers. I (personally) expect to be paid well as a nurse while being able to provide safe patient care due to reasonable patient:nurse ratios. And keep my sanity. This doesn’t mean I’m not passionate about nursing- who could get through nursing school if they weren’t passionate about helping people? But I have loved ones and myself to provide for- and sanity to keep intact as well. With the current patient:nurse ratio, sanity can be a scarcity.
    The man quoted in the article re: the Vietnam nurses is uninformed at best. People in hospitals today deserve (and quite often demand) personalized, compete care, with timely basics such as meds and hygiene. The reality is that with high patent: nurse ratios, nurses in many units are unable to provide this, though they work extremely hard. Would you want your mom/dad/loved one/yourself to be hospitalized and have a nurse who, though he/she is passionate about patients and is a nurse that Clara Barton would be proud of, has barely enough time to pass out meds, much less clean their stool in a timely manner? The reality is that many patients do face this, and these nurses in Duluth are doing something about it. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Vietnam-era nursing, but those nurses were certainly made of the same stuff today’s nurses are made of. The man quoted in the article should pull a 12 hour shift on a med/surg floor, and then he’d change his tune!

  2. Cathy Moses

    MASH unit!!1??? Is this guy for real? I have watched every episode of MASH and I can tell you that what he called triage nursing is 360 degrees different than todays hospital med-surg nursing! And even if he refers to todays triage nursing, well it’s still different! I highly doubt that ‘his’ triage unit has 80+ yo pt’s with dimentia needing nearly 1:1 care because they can’t walk, but think they can! I doubt that they have new stroke pt’s that just don’t understand what’s going on and why they can’t use half their body but think they can! I doubt that his triage doesn’t have young trach’d pt’s with feeding tubes, IV’s, and 10 family members to deal with—or the pt that has a central line, a foley and brain injury that makes her get up EVERY 30 min–every which way and had tested the limit of those tubes more than we all cares to know–because she didn’t have anyone there to sit with her! (These are real patients!)
    Somebody ought to make this guy sit in the middle of a med-surg unit for 12 hrs while I run–the ONLY similarity to his triage unit!–back and forth between them and everyone else on the unit trying to ward off catastrophes –never mind actually NURSE –AND try to help my co-workers with their pt’s –because that’s what we do where I work!
    I’ll bet after about and hour of listening to bed alarms, call bells, ringing phones, IV machines beeping and me calling out, “I need help in here please”—he’d think twice about wanting to give me 4 more pt’s!
    And we won’t EVEN talk about the paperwork in a hospital. I just can’t imagine that a triage–“get ’em in and out” has minimum–11 pages of admission paperwork, AND 5 ‘pages’ in the computer to complete——-for every patient. And that is the minimum! And don’t forget the new ‘safe’ med delivery systems that make you scan everything between the med room and the pt to make sure it is the 5 rights!
    That guy is and idiot and should be made to have to sit in the middle of the striking Duluth nurses! I wish them good luck in getting horrible nursing conditions changed!


    The triage this man referred to is field triage. Leave the dying to die and attend to the ones who have the best chance to live. I would find that extremely hard to use to justify, and maintain, my license to the Board of Nursing. I currently work on a Geriatric Psychiatric unit that houses up to 18 patients to one nurse, an LPN for medications and two techs. Not only do I have to manage their psychological problems, but most of them have extreme medical problems for which I must attend to as well. I never am able to get off from work on time, and frequently end up helping the next shift while I am trying to finish up my charting, as many of the patients -have “sun-downer’s Syndrome” and start acting out with the potential to hurt themselves or someone else. I currently have a bruise on my arm from one patient wielding a broom as a weapon and striking me with it as I tried to dis-arm him. This is extremely unsafe for not only that patient, but every-one else on the unit. After working as a nurse since 1993, I am well aware of the dangers of sub-standard staffing. No one but a nurse can under-stand the stress of trying to give ALL of your patient’s the care required and necessary when the patient to nurse ration is anything above 5:1. Medication errors can occur, patients can fall and break limbs, patient’s can DIE before you can even get to them. I have always disagreed with the baseline standard of hospitals wanting to make a profit at the ultimate expense of a nurse or patient. Does a patient in pain require more time than a patient just received on the unit to be assessed, or an elderly patient who has embarrassingly defecated and urinated in their bed and must not only be cleaned, but the bed changed and cleaned. Where do you draw the line??? Leave a dressing change that is ordered every shift on a diabetic patient with the potential of losing that limb because it was not assessed and worstened in that 8 hour period???? There is no happy answer for any nurse put in the position of having to care for so many patients with such different needs and potentials to go bad in very different ways. I know the nurses are not doing this willingly, but to be a patient advocate. ALL nurses speak for their patients, and sometimes must resort to extreme measures when the facility they work for loses sight of the true goal of patient CARE. I applaude them for stepping up to a very difficult task, not for themselves, but for the human beings in their care. It is called devotion. As for M.A.S.H., again, leave the ones who won’t survive and attend to the living. That just doesn’t make sense to me, you can’t make that decision in a hospital setting and maintain sanity and your license.

  4. Shelly

    Safety is the issue here…Yes, in an emergency situation nurses can and have taken care of many more patients, but can they do it safely?? NO…and this guy with the MASH unit comment?? He would be the first one suing if a mistake were made while these nurses were overwhelmed with 12 patients…in a given 12 hour shift that is only one hour of patient care time per patient…that’s roughly 2 hours of nursing time per 24 hour shift per patient…why even be in the hospital?? 12 patients per nurse is absolutely rediculous!

  5. Sharon

    Most nurses do what they do because…they love to care for people! You know its bad when a nurse feels the way these nurses are feeling! We will do anything to care for another without hurting someone in the process!

  6. Dianne

    These nurses are to be commended, not condemned for taking a stand against an administration that would rather have a larger profit margin than hire enough ancillary staff to make sure the nurses are free to do nursing. The guy who wrote that about his unit in Vietnam did not have to deal with liability and license issues that RN’s worry about on a daily if not hourly basis. It’s because nurses have never before taken a stand against the conditions they are forced to work in that people are going to start to take notice. We do care for our pateints and as the caregivers who spend the most time with the patients, this is the most effective way to get the point across. The heck with our “leadership” calling us unprofessional and putting no strike clauses into every contract I’ve ever worked under. Let the administrators and supervisors, and yes, even doctors walk a day in a staff nurses shoes, I would bet the changes would be rapidly forthcoming. I’m proud of my collegues and stand with them in spirit.

  7. Patricia Holliday

    This nurse speaks the truth. If a life threatening situation arises and the outcome is less than desirable, the nurse is the one held accountable…..not administration, not the supervisor, not the clerk, not the health tech and not the nursing assistant. Wanting safe patient/nurse ratios does not make us unprofessional. It makes us a caring but smart professional group of people.