How the Nurses of Providence Sacred Heart Are Standing Up for Their Rights
This week, 1,900 registered nurses rallied for more nurse and patient safety at Providence Sacred Heart in Spokane, Washington. Standing outside in the freezing cold, these nurses brought their concerns right to the community they serve, advocating for safe staffing levels, regular breaks at work, and more time off to rest and spend time with loved ones. But, as these nurses made clear, these benefits aren’t just for the nurses themselves, they’re about making sure nurses can do their job without putting their patients at risk. Overworking nurses and denying them breaks during their shift can negatively impact the quality of care their patients receive. Learn more about the importance of safe staffing levels and how these nurses are standing up for their rights in the workplace.
Raising Awareness for Nurse and Patient Safety
The nurses of Providence Sacred Heart took to the street to talk about the difficulties they face on the job. Many complained about going without breaks at work, not being able to take time off, and working long hours with little time to rest in between.
Clint Wallace, an ICU nurse at Sacred Heart, commented, “We’d do anything to save more lives and heal more people because we’re nurses. That’s why we got into these jobs. But when I’m working through entire shifts with no break or can’t take time off, it isn’t just bad for me, it’s bad for my patients.”
Some nurses involved in the demonstration are putting the blame on Providence Sacred Heart, accusing management of putting profits before the health and safety of their staff and patients. Jan Bussert, President of the Washington State Nurses Association, which represents over 17,000 nurses, added, “Across Washington, we hear of Providence suits from Seattle coming in to local contract negotiations and demanding nurses sacrifice more, more and more, ultimately putting patient safety on the line. We won’t let them do this to the nurses and patients at Sacred Heart.”
Why Safe Staffing Levels Are Important
As these nurses demonstrated, having fewer nurses on the floor puts patients at risk. If nurses are unable to take time off to rest and spend time with their loved ones, they’ll be less effective at work. They maybe stressed out trying to make sure someone’s there to watch their kids while they’re at work. Nurse fatigue can also lead to more medical errors on the job, which can result in legal consequences for the nurse and the facility. If nurses are forced to come into work when they’re sick, it can lead to the spread of germs and increase the chances of other staff members and patients getting sick.
A recent study showed higher nurse-patient ratios lead to better outcomes for patients. In fact, patients were 95% more likely to survive when nurses followed a hospital-mandated nurse-patient ratio.
Having more nurses on the floor means nurses can spend more time with each patient. In a recent survey, 90% of nurses said they don’t have enough time to provide adequate comfort and emotional support to their patients and the patients’ family members, which can have a negative effect on a patient’s well-being.
How Sacred Heart Is Responding
In response to the demonstrations earlier this week, Providence Sacred Heart has said it’s adjusting its nursing benefits package to give nurses more time off. The new benefits package would include up to 35 days of paid time-off per year, which adds up to seven weeks. Nurses can use these days to take a vacation or to stay home when they’re sick without worrying about losing a portion of their income. The new benefits package is expected to take effect in 2020.
The Limits of Overtime Pay
In response to nurses’ demands for more breaks at work, Providence stated the break system currently in place is “proven to be a safe model of care and is regularly recognized as one of the top hospitals in Washington State for quality of care outcomes.” According to Providence, “only 5% of breaks or meals are missed; those missed are compensated with overtime pay.”
While some nurses may refute these numbers, making up for missed breaks and meals with overtime pay has its limits. While some nurses may welcome the modest bump in pay, working without a break or a proper bite to eat can make nurses less effective on the job. If an emergency strikes and nurses haven’t had a break or time to eat, they may not have the physical or mental resources to save as many lives as possible when every second counts.
Healthier Nurses Means Healthier Patients
Making sure nurses have enough time off to see their loved ones and take care of themselves when they’re sick helps keep patients safe and can even improve their chances of recovery and survival. The same is true of giving nurses enough time to eat and take a break while they’re on the job. Nursing managers and facility managers should collect data on patient traffic and the complexity of their patients’ needs to set more accurate nurse-patient ratios. Patient traffic is always changing, so facility managers should adjust nurse staffing levels accordingly.
If nurses are unable to take a break at work or feel pressure to come in when they’re sick, they should raise their concerns with their nurse manager or another supervisor. If the facility fails to address these concerns, nurses can reach out to a union or HR representative for more assistance.