Nurses at Research Medical Center are protesting what they say are high turnover rates and inadequate staffing at the hospital.
The nurses say Research has too few nurses dealing with too many patients. They complain the hospital is often out of compliance with its own staffing requirements and, as a result, nurses are leaving the hospital in droves.
In 2017, Research hired 188 registered nurses but 169 quit at the same time , according to National Nurses United, which represents nurses at both Research and another HCA Midwest Health-owned hospital, Menorah Medical Center.
On Friday, more than 100 nurses and their supporters turned out for a protest in front of Research. The demonstration came against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations between the union and the two hospitals.
The contracts for Research’s nearly 700 registered nurses and Menorah’s 325 registered nurses expired on May 31.
In a statement, the hospital said Research has hired 40 more full- and part-time nurses since December. Another 55 new graduate nurses, it said, will begin their orientation this summer.
Research spokeswoman Christine Hamele called the nurses’ demonstration a bargaining tactic and said the protests were “unfortunate, but not unusual.” She also pointed to recognition the hospital has received from the Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies hospitals in the United States, and other organizations for patient care and improved employee engagement scores over the past year.
The union contends nurse-to-patient ratios in December 2017 showed the inpatient oncology unit at Research was 66 percent understaffed, the intensive care unit 21 percent understaffed and the orthopedic, neurology and trauma unit 52 percent understaffed.
Bessie Gray, a registered nurse in Research’s labor and delivery unit who has been at the hospital for 40 years, says the nurses want Research to invest a portion of the money it saved under the Trump administration’s tax cuts into resources for retaining nurses. Gray says not being able to help patients to the restroom, turn them over or deliver pain medication in time are some of the effects of the hospital’s understaffing.
Nursing shortages are common across Missouri. A 2017 report by the Missouri Hospital Association found that the state’s nursing shortage hit a record high last year. Staff nurses have the highest vacancy rate among healthcare workers, increasing from last year.
“Vacancy rates are a strong signal that there aren’t enough folks in the workforce to fill positions,” says Dave Dillon, a spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association. “Between the vacancy issue, which is troubling, and turnover, what we see is there is a lot of movement in the marketplace for registered nurses, and that becomes problematic.”
Dillion says retaining experienced nurses remains a challenge. He says hospitals can do a few things to help keep experienced nurses, including investing in leadership opportunities for veteran nurses, transitioning bedside nurses into teaching opportunities and offering nurses a way to pursue higher degrees.
This is not the first time nurses at Research have taken to the picket line. In August 2015, when contracts were up for negotiation, nurses from both Research and Menorah protested over similar issues.
Sophia Tulp is an intern at KCUR. She can be reached on Twitter @sophia_tulp.