Ahead of the holiday, nurses detail crisis in Minnesota hospitals


Contact: Sam Fettig
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Lauren Nielsen
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Nurses call for action to protect patient and worker safety

(St. Paul) – December 20, 2021 – Today, nurse members of the Minnesota Nurses Association shared their experience of the current crisis in Minnesota hospitals. [Click here to watch the press conference.] The nurses described the unsustainable conditions in their workplaces and called on hospital CEOs and public officials to take action to ensure hospitals are safe and welcoming to patients and workers.

“To our patients, I want to say this: nurses will be here when you need us,” said Mary C. Turner, RN, MNA President and a COVID ICU Nurse at North Memorial Hospital. “To our hospital CEOs and elected officials, please hear us: nurses need more than words, we need action to address the crisis of staffing and retention in Minnesota hospitals.”

In their remarks today, nurses described the crushing conditions in Minnesota hospitals as COVID-19 cases surge, including full Intensive Care Units and Emergency Departments which have pushed patients into hallways and waiting rooms. At the start of the pandemic, Minnesota nurses kept themselves and their patients safe even when hospitals could not provide enough PPE. Now, nearly two years later, the situation is just as bleak.

“For the last two years, our employers have relied on our sense of duty and our love of the job, each other, and our patients to push through surge after surge,” said Kelley Anaas, RN. “Nurses want to keep showing up to provide our expert care, but the current patient care environment and our working conditions are making it increasingly hard for us to do just that.”

Nurses described steps elected officials and hospital executives can take to improve their retention and staffing levels, including efforts to schedule nurses at preferred times, meet equitable pay and bonus compensation levels, provide more ICU training to nurses and approve leave requests for paid sick and vacation time. As hospital executives continue to make millions in compensation – like the $49.5 million “golden parachute” recently paid to Sanford CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft, who spread misinformation about COVID-19 – management can afford to make the necessary improvements to put the wellbeing of workers and patients first.

“More and more often, I see that I am fighting to get enough staff to care for these patients,” said Lynnetta Muehlhauser, RN at Abbott Northwestern. “There are a lot of patients that need to be in the hospital. Let us care for them, and let us do the best that we can.”

Nurses continue to urge all Minnesotans to take the pandemic seriously and to take steps to protect themselves and their families. But COVID-19 is not the only crisis nurses are facing. Since before the pandemic, hospital CEOs have hired and scheduled nurses at low levels to cut costs, leaving fewer nurses to try to care for more and more patients. A recent study from National Nurses United surveys the crisis of hospital short staffing and proposes solutions which hospitals and legislators can enact.

“The community can help mitigate the current COVID-19 crisis by getting vaccinated, wearing masks and making conscious choices when gathering outside of their family unit,” said Trisha Ochsner, RN at Children’s Minnesota. “But the reality is that COVID has shed a light on a systemic problem related to unsafe staffing across the metro and state. We need appropriate staffing levels today and remediation of past shortcomings by hospital executives now.”

Hospital executives continue to short-staff workers, deny paid COVID leave, and put up roadblocks to nurses’ requests for sick leave. When hospital executives fail to provide adequate staff levels, nurses feel pressure to accept unsafe work assignments, and patients may not receive the care they expect and deserve.

“We became nurses to heal, help, and provide for our communities,” said Wendy Wahl, RN at Sanford Hospital in Thief River Falls. “Corporate healthcare choices are not just hurting nurses. Corporate healthcare choices are what have brought us to the breaking point. Corporate healthcare’s business model has been exposed by COVID-19.”

Minnesota continues to train enough nursing students to meet the state’s needs. But no matter how many new nurses enter the profession, this crisis will continue as long as executives continue to create conditions that drive them away. In some Minnesota hospitals, recent graduates last just a few months before being pushed out of the profession by unsafe and unsustainable conditions. This problem is compounded by more experienced nurses taking early retirement or being stretched thin with patient care, leaving less time to mentor, train and coach new nurses.

“It is absolutely true that we are overwhelmed. It is absolutely true that we are heartbroken,” said Emily Wright, RN at M Health Fairview Southdale. “It is also true that the executives making a plea to the public are the ones who have the most power to help their staff and patients.”

This is not a crisis of nursing; it is a crisis of management. Until CEOs solve the crisis in their hospitals, these untenable conditions will continue to drive nurses away from patients at the bedside. Minnesota nurses are at a breaking point.