Nurses, hospitalists go public with concerns

ONA launches campaign to improve patient care

By Lydia Hallay

THE NURSES AND HOSPITALISTS working at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene and Springfield, Ore., have launched a campaign to bring their long-standing concerns about staffing to the community through Sacred Heart Caregivers United, an Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) coordinated effort aimed at putting public pressure on PeaceHealth administration.

The decision to go public with concerns about staffing wasn’t taken lightly by nurses or hospitalists, who often go to great pains to ensure that their patients are never aware of the problems behind the scenes. For Tore’ Murvin, a night-shift nurse on the general medical unit, the decision to speak out didn’t come easily. “There is a culture of silence in nursing. The last thing I want is to alarm the public that their loved ones are in a potentially unsafe situation because of staffing issues.”

Sacred Heart Medical Center was one of Oregon’s most profitable healthcare facilities in 2014; nonetheless, for four years in a row, it has led the state in incidents of insufficient staffing as documented by caregivers in Staffing Request and Documentation Forms.

Murvin, who has been employed at Sacred Heart for 10 years, says things at the facility used to be different. “I remember the days when the sisters were involved in the day-to-day workings of the organization. I was proud and excited to be a part of Sacred Heart.” Since then, she’s witnessed changes that have moved the organization away from the nuns’ original mission. “There has been a revolving door of administrators,” she says. “The majority of nurses I work with feel a disconnect between upper management and the reality at the bedside.”

Nurses and hospitalists at Sacred Heart traditionally have focused on resolving their disagreements with administration more privately—through labor-management cooperation, staffing committees, collective bargaining and so forth. However, after more than two years of frustrating efforts to address staffing concerns internally, caregivers decided that a less conventional approach was necessary to draw attention to the issue.

The campaign, which launched in November, garnered a flurry of media coverage.

Meanwhile, a public petition has been circulating in support of improved staffing at Sacred Heart, and lawn signs supporting the campaign are beginning to sprout up around the community.

As momentum continues to build, 
PeaceHealth nurses from Alaska and Washington state have gotten involved, and a coordinated effort in support of improved staffing at sister facilities in three states is underway. Locally, an increasing number of frontline caregivers have decided to speak up and lend their voices to the campaign, including Matthew Calzia, a nurse who works 12-hour shifts in the ICU. “I think it’s vital” that community members know what is happening in the place they may end up in” when they are more vulnerable than at any other time in their lives. “It’s our ethical obligation as patient advocates to speak up.”

“I see the amazing work that nurses and my fellow clinicians do on a daily and hourly basis; I see the pressure they’re under,” says Rajeev Alexander, a Sacred Heart hospitalist who went on record with the media about his concerns. “For the sake of the health of my patients and for the health of the larger institution, I felt I had to say something.”

More than two dozen ONA members from Sacred Heart plan to take their stories to lawmakers in Salem this legislative cycle to lobby for improvements to Oregon’s Nurse Staffing Law. For some nurses, speaking publicly about the problems they see at the bedside can feel intimidating. But Calzia is ready: “When you speak truth, and you have a good union behind you, you need not be afraid.”

Healthwire, Spring 2015 Download PDF (592.85 KB)
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