Budget woes pit hospitals against nurses


While Twin Cities nurses have, temporarily, made peace with local hospitals, a quick scan of the headlines reveals growing tension between nurses and hospitals. At the heart of the tension? Budget cuts.
Hospitals and health centers worldwide are being asked to do more with less. In the United States, hospitals have agreed to absorb much of the cost of the initial stages of healthcare reform. In Canada and Scotland, national health budgets have been cut and hospitals are scrambling to cover costs. Because nursing is a big budget item, healthcare administrators frequently target nurses.

But while the hospitals say they don’t have the funds to continue previous levels of staffing, pay and benefits, nurses are insisting on the value of their services. In Scotland, the Royal College of Nursing has asked nurses to come forward with suggestions as to how to cut costs without limiting essential care. Twin Cities nurses stressed nurses’ contributions to patient safety and ultimately preserved their retirement and health benefits. (The new contract, however, does not include minimum nurse-patient ratios, an issue stressed by the union as beneficial to patient safety.)

Increasingly, nurses are taking their cause to the streets — in the form of strikes and protests. Nurses in Duluth, Minnesota (located about 150 miles north of the Twin Cities) plan to picket outside SMDC Medical Center Monday to draw attention to unsafe staffing after six weeks of negotiation have failed to produce a satisfactory contract. They follow in the footsteps of nurses in Pennsylvania and California. Nurses are taking to the courtroom as well: Cambridge nurses have recently filed a complaint alleging unfair labor practices after the Cambridge Health Alliance declared an impasse after five negotiation sessions. The hospital seeks to decrease health benefits for retirees; the nurses are fighting back.

Do you think hospitals and nurses can find some common ground? If you were an administrator, how would you control costs — and preserve quality care?


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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