Dozens of nurses gathered for a picket Monday morning to protest what they say are unsafe staffing levels at St. Louis University Hospital.
In advance of contract negotiations, the hospital’s chapter of National Nurses United conducted a staffing survey in 2015 and compared the data collected to staffing guidelines set by the hospital’s management. Overall, optimal staffing levels were not met on 58 percent of shifts in a 21-day period.
Of particular concern among union members is staffing levels in the intensive care units.
“There are times when one nurse can have a triple or a three-patient assignment,” said Marchelle Vernell-Bettis, who works in the trauma intensive care unit. “It’s not only dangerous for the patient it’s extremely stressful for the nurse.”
Nurses say understaffing is not unique to SLU, but that being unionized allows them to raise these issues.
The union is three months into contract negotiations with the hospital’s management and had hoped that staffing would improve after it was acquired last year by the nonprofit, SSM Health. In addition to improving patient safety, understaffing can lead to higher injury rates among staff.
“Staffing levels have been a problem for a long time,” said Jay Coomer, a recovery room nurse. “It has been shown that poor staffing leads to tired nurses, tired nurses make mistakes.”
In a statement, the hospital says it follows strict procedures to ensure adequate staffing. SLU officials said they would not release its own data or confirm the accuracy of the nurse’s study because of union negotiations.
“We re-evaluate the needs of our patients on a regular and ongoing basis, and adjust our staffing as needed to ensure we are providing the best care possible,” the statement read. “We continue to negotiate in good faith and remain committed to reaching an agreement that ensures exceptional patient care and service continue.”
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Note: an earlier version of this article misstated the number of attendees.