Ensuring patients are safe, healthy and cared for is the ultimate goal in Healthcare. Without support staff, this goal cannot be met.
Think about a typical day on a unit and the teamwork that is needed to provide safe, whole person care—the nurses and CNAs at the bedside, the staff transporting your patients between procedures, the staff answering calls, the staff sitting with a patient overnight, the staff drawing labs, the staff delivering meal trays or fresh linens, the staff assisting a frail patient to a chair—the list is endless.
Support staff work hard to ensure that you have what you need to properly care for patients. And they make sure patients are safe, clean and well-fed. They’re your teammates.
Right now, SEIU teammates are demanding Allina agree to a fair Union contract. Allina is refusing that demand and could force your teammates to go on strike. Consider all of the support SEIU teammates provide to patients and coworkers. Please read what the impact of how Allina continuing to deny SEIU members a fair contract could have on the delivery of patient care.
I feel the tension as I approach the desk to get my assignment. Cassie leaves after getting hers, expressing frustration of already being behind when she’s technically early for her shift. I see I have three of the four patients I had yesterday, and I am up for a transfer from the cardiac ICU. The phone keeps ringing, but our unit secretary and the night and day charge nurses are not around to answer. I make my way to the phone just as it stops ringing. I head back to the pod I’m assigned.
As I make my way back, I notice a lot of call lights are lit up and ringing, and there are fewer bodies strategically weaving in and around one another than usual. 7 am is a very busy time on our unit: weights are being done, clean linen is being delivered, and nursing assistants are answering lights as they get patients ready for breakfast to be delivered. By now, the night shift nurses have looked up early morning labs so that during report we can collaborate on any labs that may be outside normal limits. However, today none of the nurses are at the computer looking them up. Instead, they are answering call lights and delivering linens and getting pitchers of fresh water. They look more stressed than usual, and the patients seem on edge. What’s different? We’ve had some short-staffed and unsafe shifts before, but this is not the same. The difference today is, we have no support staff.
Our employer has refused to fairly settle their contract, forcing them to go on strike.
No unit secretary or health unit coordinator is at the desk answering the phone of nervous family members, impatient physicians, or worried smaller hospitals needing transfers coordinated for their patients.
No nursing assistants are available to answer call lights and help walk unsteady patients to the bathroom. No nursing assistants are there to help Nancy, the RN from nights, change linens on a bed that got soiled because a peripheral IV connection came loose and leaked Keflex and Normal Saline into the bed for an hour before the patient called to let her know. It takes both Nancy and the charge nurse to help assist the patient into her chair while they strip and remake her bed because the patient is frail and elderly.
Jen, one of our other long-term NOC nurses worked as a sitter for one of our other patients who had a valve replacement. The patient has been with us three extra nights because he went into A-Fib (Atrial Fibrillation) the night before discharge. He also has sundowners and gets very confused and combative if there isn’t anyone to reassure or redirect him.
I look up my patients as quickly as possible to see if anything has changed since yesterday and find there are no labs entered. Lab usually comes to the unit between five and six in the morning to draw blood so we have the results prior to patients going for procedures or before physicians round so we can discuss changes and potential discharge. But there are no lab technicians.
The phone in our pod starts ringing and I answer. It is the cath lab. The RN on the unit wants to talk with me about my patient in 4566 and whether or not the night nurse or I have drawn labs or gotten the consent signed. And she asks if I can bring the patient down in a wheelchair and on a Lifepak. If I can do that, she says she will transport him back up after the angiogram is done. I freeze. How am I going to leave the unit to transport my patient when I have two other patients and am up for the transfer post open heart from ICU? I’ve never drawn labs. Attempting to do so would be unsafe for the patient, and I would be accepting tasks I have never been trained to do. I am not competent to draw labs.
I tell her I need to call her back and think that I still need to get report. I go to find our day charge nurse, but as I leave the pod another patient has become impatient and tries to get up unassisted to get in the chair for her Physical Therapy and falls. The three of us, Nancy the night nurse who is supposed to be punching out right now, Cassie, and I rush to the room after we hear her cry out followed by a ‘smack’ as her head hits the side rail on her way to the floor. There’s no one on the unit to assist us, it’s just nurses. Five Registered Nurses for 26 patients.
I also notice no materials have been replaced since I left yesterday. We were already running low on dressing changes. Our linen carts are sparse; we have one clean gown, two robes and no clean hand towels, only washcloths.
I slowly sink into myself and wonder, who is going to deliver the meal trays? Who is going to transport patients to their procedures or from the Emergency Department? Who is going to go to a CODE GREEN? Who is going to sit tonight with my patient in 4566 when he gets confused and thinks he’s at home? Who’s going to draw all the labs, so we know if our patients’ calcium is low, or potassium is too high, or coumadin needs to be adjusted? Who is watching our telemetry strips in the monitoring room? One RN for 112 strips? That is so unsafe for all 112 patients on telemetry.
The Hospital could fix this if they just settled fairly with our teammates’ Union. If they saw how our patients are suffering, they couldn’t possibly think money matters more. When we do not have our support staff, our patients are unsafe.
SEIU teammates have always been there for nurses, now they need nurses to support their fight for fairness, too.