NATIONAL Nurses United held a National Day of Action on January 13th to demand their employers, and the Biden administration protect registered nurses (RNs), and all health care workers.
Actions included a 6pm candlelight vigil in Washington, DC and a 1pm virtual press conference, featuring stories from frontline registered nurses across the country.
Registered nurse members of National Nurses United (NNU), the nation’s largest union of RNs, held actions across the country on Thursday, January 13th to demand the hospital industry invest in safe staffing, and to demand that President Biden follow through on his campaign promise to protect nurses and prioritise public health.
NNU nurses emphasise that in recent weeks, the Biden administration has ripped away critical protections from health care workers and the public, with the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) weakening Covid isolation guidelines and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announcing that it intends to withdraw critical Covid protections for health care workers – right when the Omicron variant is exploding across the country and hospitalisations are skyrocketing.
Nurses emphasise that being left unprotected by the government and by their profit-driven hospital employers which have failed to invest in safe staffing and provide critical health and safety protections, has created such unsafe working conditions that nurses are being driven away from the profession.
‘As we enter year-three of the deadliest pandemic in our lifetimes, nurses are enraged to see that, for our government and our employers, it’s all about what’s good for business, not what’s good for public health,’ said NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN.
‘Our employers claim there is a “nursing shortage”, and that’s why they must flout optimal isolation times, but we know there are plenty of registered nurses in this country. There is only a shortage of nurses willing to work in the unsafe conditions created by hospital employers and this government’s refusal to impose lifesaving standards.
‘So this is a vicious cycle where weakening protections just drives more nurses away from their jobs.’
The NNU conducted a survey of thousands of registered nurses across the country from October to December, 2021.
Of the nurses who responded, 83 per cent said at least half of their shifts were unsafely staffed, and 68 per cent said they have considered leaving their position.
RNs say nurses would stop leaving the profession if hospitals immediately improved working conditions by increasing staffing levels and followed nurses’ advice to grow the pool of available nurses.
According to nurses, hospitals must actively hire permanent staff nurses and consider a wider range of educational qualifications; stop cancelling nurses; properly crosstrain current staff nurses so that they are competent to work in other departments, especially critical care, and institute optimal occupational health and safety protocols to protect nurses, other health care workers, and patients.
Nurses have also called on the CDC to strengthen isolation guidelines for health care workers and the public, and on the OSHA to institute a permanent Covid health care standard without delay.
On January 5th, the NNU joined leading labour organisations and unions representing the country’s nurses and health care workers to petition the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to order the OSHA to issue a permanent standard and to retain the emergency temporary standard until the permanent standard goes into effect.
Without the protections of a permanent standard, RNs emphasise that the health and wellbeing of nurses, other health care workers, patients, and the general public is in grave danger.
‘Everyone will need medical care at some point in their lives, and when our loved ones are in the hospital, we want nurses to be able to deliver the focused care that all patients deserve,’ said Bonnie Castillo, RN, NNU executive director.
‘But the working conditions that our employers and the federal government are telling nurses and health care workers to endure are both grossly unfair and unsustainable, and we are standing up on January 13th to say ENOUGH!
‘We need permanent protections based on science, and we need them now because when nurses and health care workers aren’t safe, we cannot keep our patients safe.’
- Amid a steep surge in Covid-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant, thousands of nurses last Thursday staged nationwide protests against staff shortage in hospitals and nursing homes across the US.
The protests were held under the banner of National Nurses United (NNU), a labour union with more than 175,000 members nationwide, which called on the hospital industry to ‘invest in safe staffing’.
Hospitals in the US, the worst-hit country in the world, have been struggling to cope up with the new tide of Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, as well as worker shortages and burnout.
Nurses are furious over sheer callousness and indifference shown by the government as well as their employers, blaming them for caring about their businesses, not the public health.
The protests took place across 11 US states and Washington DC ‘to demand the hospital industry invest in safe staffing’.
A candlelight vigil was held in Washington DC for nurses who lost their lives to the pandemic.
In a statement on Tuesday, NNU President, Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, said the severe shortage of nurses was making the fight against the pandemic increasingly difficult in the US.
The United States reported 1.35 million new coronavirus infections last Monday.
On Thursday, Chicago nurses joined the protest against working conditions that they claim have rapidly deteriorated amid the increasing rush of Covid-19 patients.
Scott Mechanic, 36, an emergency room nurse at the University of Chicago Medical Centre, was quoted as saying that problems stem from ‘widespread labour shortages throughout the health-care system and the hospital leadership who are reluctant to provide assistance.
‘We don’t have food service people … we don’t have supply chain people to deliver our most critical supplies, we don’t have people to repair our equipment,’ Mechanic said. ‘But every job that doesn’t get done by somebody else ends up falling to the bedside nurse. We’re overwhelmed.’
Chicago estimates that 56% of Black residents have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, lagging White and Latino people in the city.
The CDC has recorded similar data, reporting that 54% of Black Americans have received one Covid-19 vaccine dose.
Meanwhile, in a major blow to the Biden administration, the US Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the government’s Covid-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses in the country.
The mandate required workers at large American companies to be vaccinated or masked and tested on the weekly basis, which many saw as improper imposition on the lives and health of people.