Nurses at Lower Bucks Hospital recently picketed at the facility to protest what they’re describing as dangerous staffing conditions that are putting patients at risk.
Though contract negotiations have been underway since September with Prime Healthcare, the California-based corporate umbrella for dozens of U.S. hospitals, including Lower Bucks and Suburban Community Hospital in Norristown, these talks have yielded no results.
“We’d given them proposals on day one, they’ve given us nothing back on wages, nothing back on our healthcare, and we need improvements in those so that we can recruit and retain nurses that are desperately needed so that we can provide the care that we need to our community,” said Shirley Crowell, RN, co-president of the Nurses Association of Lower Bucks Hospital, an affiliate of PASNAP (Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals).
According to the nurses, there are shifts in which the Lower Bucks Hospital Emergency Department is staffed with just two nurses all night, and there are no housekeeping staff available to take out waste and clean rooms.
Additionally, the nurses claim Prime provides them inadequate health insurance and fights them on medical claims made, resulting in high staff turnover and low ability to attract experienced nurses to the Pennsylvania hospitals.
Amanda Whitaker, RN, a Lower Bucks Hospital ICU nurse and member of the Nurses Association of Lower Bucks Hospital, explained how she’s still fighting with Prime four years later to cover her son’s hospital stay when he was diagnosed with life-endangering RSV.
“They deny, deny, deny without even looking at the situation,” she said. “Honestly, it feels like a punch in the face. We’re in healthcare and we can’t even afford healthcare. It’s wrong on so many levels.”
While California is the only state with legally mandated nurse-to-patient ratios, healthcare professionals are calling for such a mandate in Pennsylvania, as low staffing is a recipe for burnout, mistakes and bad outcomes.
Present at the Oct. 30 protest was state Sen. Steve Santarsiero, who voiced his support for the nurses and stressed the importance of changes being made in Harrisburg. Specifically, he’s calling for the passage of the Patient Safety Act, which this summer received an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 119 to 84 in the House. The bill, which currently sits in the Senate, would set a minimum safe staffing standard in the commonwealth, ensuring excellent healthcare at every facility.
“We have to tell these corporations that run our hospitals these days that it is not acceptable, that the staffing levels have to be sufficient so that you can do the reason you signed up to be a nurse in the first place. That is, care of people and make sure they get the kind of care that they deserve, and that we should have in this country everywhere,” said Santarsiero.
The senator added, “But we’re in an environment where these corporations, and in some cases these private equity firms, are taking over our hospitals. And why are they doing that? Because they want to suck the money out of it, and they don’t care what happens to people when they come in and they need your care. And they don’t care about you either. All they care about is sucking the money out, flipping the hospital and going on to the next place. We have to stop that.”
Also present at the protest was Bucks County Coroner candidate Patti Campi, a registered nurse, and the Bucks County Commissioners.
“This is a community hospital. The nurses here know it’s a community hospital, and we’re really counting on them to take care of us and our friends and neighbors, and that doesn’t happen when there’s corporate greed,” said commissioners vice chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia. “So we are with you, we stand beside you. Management, hear us! Work with the nurses.”
Representatives from Prime have denied that there are unsafe staffing levels and poor health insurance. Still, the protest at Lower Bucks Hospital comes a week after nurses at its sister hospital Suburban Community picketed at their facility. The nearly 200 unionized RNs and LPNs are both, at the time of this writing, negotiating contracts with their mutual owner and hope agreements can be reached.
“The nurses at Lower Bucks Hospital — some of whom have spent their entire careers here — are fiercely loyal to our patients, to our community and to our hospital. But we shouldn’t have to beg for a decent healthcare plan or for wages that are comparable to those offered at surrounding hospitals. Where is the respect for what we bring to the bedside? Where is the respect for patient care?,” asked Crowell.
She added, “We nurses hold our patients in our hearts. When we need to leave the bedside and head outside to fight for safe staffing and quality of patient care, it breaks our hearts. But we’ll do it, because we are our patients’ best advocates.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com