Press Release

AFT Launches $1 Million ‘Code Red’ Campaign to Counter America’s Spiraling Patient Care Crisis

National Initiative, Ad Buys Will Highlight Solutions to Healthcare Staffing Crisis Caused by Healthcare Corporations Putting Profits over Patients

For Release:


Andrew Crook
o: 202-393-8637 | c: 607-280-6603

PORTLAND, Ore.—The American Federation of Teachers—the nation’s fastest-growing healthcare union —launched a major national campaign today to shine a spotlight on and address the country’s dire healthcare staffing crisis that is putting patients at increasingly grave risk.

“Code Red: Understaffing = Patient Care Crisis” is a $1 million, multipronged, multiyear campaign involving more than 100 affiliates to zero in on the issue of inadequate staffing and hold healthcare corporations and government accountable through education, outreach, advocacy, contract bargaining and legislation. 

“We’re calling a code red. Every day, healthcare professionals and the patients they care for are suffering—as corporate employers undermine them and downplay the very real crisis, while raking in record profits,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

“Understaffing is the core problem, which leads to the erosion of patient care, heavier workloads, mandatory overtime, constant fatigue, injuries and skyrocketing rates of violence. This is not new, but COVID-19 has put us at a breaking point. It’s time to stop healthcare corporations from ignoring this crisis or papering it over with billboards that ‘thank’ our healthcare heroes but fail to help them. The time to act is now.”

“Code Red” will be launched Friday in downtown Portland alongside AFT affiliates the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals and the Oregon Nurses Association, which are pushing for the passage of Oregon House Bill 2697 to enshrine safe staffing standards.  

The union will kick off the campaign with a half-million-dollar radio, Pandora, Facebook and Instagram ad buy in key markets targeting the public as well as policymakers, to sound the alarm on the dire situation inside the nation’s hospitals and healthcare facilities.

A six-figure investment in local AFT affiliates to galvanize efforts at bargaining tables and in statehouses will aim to secure clear and enforceable limits on patient care assignments, whether through safe patient levels in collective bargaining agreements or legislative prohibitions that protect the safety of care when employers intentionally run short-staffed.

The AFT will also invest in a national clearinghouse of effective strategies and renew its push to ensure the passage of national and state legislation and increased support for aggressive contract campaigns.

“Let’s be clear: These problems are fixable, but corporations have demonstrated they won’t fix it themselves,” added Weingarten. “That’s why we’re asking state and federal legislators to implement safe patient levels and create added incentives to hire, train and competitively pay nurses and other healthcare providers.”

In addition to legislative redress, the AFT is working with more than 100 healthcare locals that are seeking to address staffing policy through collective bargaining. Staffing ratio language has been negotiated at sites including The Ohio State University and Kaiser Permanente and in agreements at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, NYU Langone Health and NYU Lutheran Medical Center in New York City.

The campaign actualizes the recommendations of the AFT’s landmark “Healthcare Staffing Shortage Task Force Report”, released in November, which found nurses and other healthcare professionals are exhausted, burned out, anxious and leaving the profession in droves.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 1 in 5 healthcare clinicians have quit their jobs. Of those who stayed in their jobs, nearly 1 in 3 have considered leaving at one point. And between 2020 and 2021, the total number of registered nurses in the workforce declined for the first time in more than five years.

The data show that adding just one additional patient to a nurse’s workload results in a 7 percent increased risk of a patient dying within 30 days of admission and a 48 percent increased risk of a child being readmitted to the hospital within 30 days.

The radio ad can be heard here.

Radio Script

ANNCR: Code red. American hospitals are on the critical list.

A nursing and health professional staffing crisis is jeopardizing quality care … everywhere.

But we can turn things around:

With safe patient levels, more incentives to hire, train and competitively pay nurses and other healthcare providers, and standards to hold corporations accountable when it comes to patient care.

Tell your legislator: Act now; keep the heart of our healthcare system beating strong.

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.