Strike may have been averted, but staffing issue still riles MN nurses

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This is NOT just a Minnesota issue. What’s happening in Lake Wobegon country may have ramifications nationwide.

A nurse and a nurses’ union governmental affairs specialist co-authored an opinion piece in the Star Tribune this week, showing how raw some nurses’ nerves still are over this summer’s labor dispute. The one-day strike was held and another was threatened before management and nurses settled. But if you think all is well, read the opinion piece. Excerpts:

“Inside the walls of Twin Cities acute care hospitals, all is not as healthy as the public relations flacks would have you believe. In fact, their own consultants have issued a report that substantiates the internal turmoil nurses describe. Press Ganey Associates Inc., a nationally respected employee relations firm specializing in health care, recently released “Pulse Report 2010 — Employee and Nurse Perspectives on American Health Care.” It blows the lid off this problem.

A total of 235,122 hospital employees from 383 U.S. hospitals (including Minnesota) were interviewed, and the facts are bruising:

•Nearly half of all nurses are disengaged, disempowered and unhappy on the job.

•This discontent translates into compromised patient outcomes.

•Nurses don’t feel their patients are safe and don’t recommend their own hospitals as centers of care.

Hospitals aren’t as safe as they claim because they collect incomplete data, allowing them to be opaque about the realities nurses witness.

The hospitals have fashioned a good spin game that the Star Tribune has obviously bought hook, line, and sinker.”

In the end, in the labor negotiations, the union gave up on its main issue of staffing ratios, announcing that it would take the matter to the state legislature instead. The piece discusses that legislative proposal:

“(The union’s) proposal on staffing offers a comprehensive solution in which actual ratios are less than one page of a six-page bill. It considers how sick the patient is (patient acuity), how much nursing care time it takes to do certain patient care tasks (nursing intensity), the skill level of the registered nurses on the unit, the availability of support staff, and the type of environment.

But we butt our heads up against a culture that idolizes the theory of risk management. They maximize profits by calculating the financial risk of allowing “little” things to occur, like an excruciatingly painful stage three pressure ulcer (vs. a reportable stage four). It is a system that operates on the backs of nurses’ professional ethics, valuing profit over care, seriously challenging every nurse’s core value of caring for patients in a safe environment.

These are two irreconcilable forces — and we believe in our democratic system to help mediate the path forward.”

The path to the state legislature with this proposal will be an interesting and important one to follow – not only for Minnesotans, but perhaps for patients, providers and consumers across the country. Journalists should be gearing up to deal with these issues in their own communities.

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