Nurses | St. Louis Public Radio

Nurses

Members of the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United union protest what they refer to as unsafe staffing levels at St. Louis University Hospital in Midtown on Sep. 9.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

For the second time in three years, union nurses at SSM Health-St. Louis University Hospital are protesting what they call unsafe staffing levels at the Midtown hospital.

There aren’t enough employees at the facility, said representatives of the National Nurses Organizing Committee, which represents the nurses at the hospital. Nurses constantly have to care for more patients than they can handle. Long wait times mean patients can become agitated and violent, putting employees at risk, representatives say. 

New nurse Becky Boesch looks through files as part of her job as a nurse in the cardiac step-down unit at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri State Board of Nursing has approved expanding five of the state’s nursing programs, adding 250 slots for future students.

State officials say the move aims to help reduce nursing vacancies. The profession has one of the highest vacancy rates in the health sector, with 13 percent of positions unfilled in Missouri, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.

Nurse Jordan McNab attends to a patient in the cardiac intensive care unit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On nurse Jordan McNab’s first day at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis in 2017, a patient stopped breathing. She had to immediately start giving him CPR.

“I vividly remember with my hands on a chest and going too fast,” she said. “You just can’t prepare for it.”

For many beginning nurses, the stress of a new job can be particularly acute. Dealing daily with life, death and illness along with normal new job strain can put them at risk of burnout during the transition from school to work.

To help new nurses deal with stress and keep them in the workforce, the region’s hospitals have developed nurse residency programs that focus on their well-being.

St. Louis County is interested in joining a statewide eletronic monitoring program for people awaiting trial once Missouri gets it up and running.
FIle photo | Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Nearly one-third of the nursing positions at the St. Louis County Jail are vacant, according to the county’s Department of Public Health. Nurses and public-health officials say the pay isn’t sufficient to keep people from leaving.

Nurses from the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton on Monday told members of the St. Louis County Council if the county does not pay them more, it’s likely nurse turnover will remain high.

“In the past month, we’ve lost four longtime employees to [hospital group] SSM,” said corrections nurse Lisa Wellman, who has been working at the jail for seven years. "And their pay-and-benefits package far exceeds what we have.”

Medical assistant Raquis Tyler, Dr. Heidi Miller and nurse Cindi Boehm discuss treatment plans for patients at Family Care Health Centers in St. Louis.
File photo | Tim Lloyd | St. Louis Public Radio

Two years ago, registered nurse Amanda Sommer decided she had had enough. She was working as a bedside nurse in a large St. Louis hospital, floating among different departments and taking care of half a dozen patients for 12-hour shifts. Because of staff shortages, her manager often scheduled her to work both nights and days, and the lack of routine was wearing on her.

Sommer left that hospital in 2016 and worked as a home health nurse before leaving the workforce to start a family. She’s one of many health workers who have left their job in recent years. According to a report from the Missouri Hospital Association, health workers are increasingly leaving their jobs. Nearly 18 percent of workers in Missouri and metro east hospitals surveyed by the association left their jobs in 2017, up from 16 percent the year before.

Pat Potter, a former nurse in St. Louis, is noted in the field for her textbook "Fundamentals of Nursing," which is used to teach new nursing students across the country. She retired earlier this spring.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Patricia Potter is noted in the field of nursing for her textbook “Fundamentals of Nursing,” which is used for new nursing students across the country, as well as her groundbreaking teaching of resiliency in nursing, which helps nurses manage stress by combating “compassion fatigue.”

Earlier this spring, Potter retired after 46 years as a nurse, 41 of those she spent at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. At the time of her retirement, Potter was the hospital’s director of research.

Marchelle Vernell-Bettis, a trauma ICU nurse, wears a button during an informational picket for St. Louis University Hospital's nurses union.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Sunday, Sept. 25, 5 p.m. with vote results Nurses at Saint Louis University Hospital have approved a new three-year contract that addresses union members’ concerns over working conditions.  

Their first agreement with SSM Health, which acquired the hospital in 2015, includes a commitment to keeping enough nurses on duty and a requirement that managers give nurses eight hours to rest between shifts.

369 members of the nurse's union at St. Louis University Hospital participated in the vote throughout the day Monday.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 10 a.m. June 16

Members of a nurse’s union at Saint Louis University Hospital voted against de-authorizing their union late Monday, a measure that would have effectively created a “right-to-work” policy within the hospital.  

The National Nurses United affiliate has about 650 members at SLU Hospital; only 140 voted in favor of de-authorization during three scheduled voting periods throughout the day. The measure needed 326 votes to pass, which would have made the payment of union dues optional.  

Jan Polizzi
Provided by the family

For 12 years, Jan Polizzi was a nurse in pediatric intensive care units. That was as long as she could take it.

''I still recall the first child that I ever lost,'' she said in a 1988 St. Louis Post-Dispatch story. ''I dressed and bathed him and got him his favorite toys. I learned to love that kid and his family.''

(Courtesy Barnes-Jewish Hospital)

Caring for people experiencing pain and suffering day in and day out can be trying for nurses and other healthcare professionals. Especially when they feel like the work is never done. That feeling is called compassion fatigue and at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, they've developed a program to help.

Some might equate compassion fatigue with burnout, but it is more complex than that, said Pat Potter, director of research and compassion fatigue program developer at Barnes-Jewish.

(via Flickr/rosmary)

Registered nurses at Des Peres Hospital  have successfully negotiated their first contract as members of a union.

The Des Peres nurses joined the National Nurses Organizing Committee in 2012. The deal ratified on Thursday adjusts job security protections, bars mandatory overtime, and establishes a committee of nurses to work with hospital management to improve patient care. The agreement also provides for wage increases and secures the nurses’ employer-paid health coverage.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 25, 2009 - With a faltering economy making tuition increasingly unaffordable, many college students face the prospect of having to cut back on classes to defer costs. This may not be necessary for some nursing students at Webster University, which announced last week its plan to distribute roughly $100,000 in scholarship and stipend money to current students.