Political and community leaders joined NYSNA nurses and 1199SEIU caregivers for a march and rally on May 11 to raise awareness about short staffing and patient care concerns at Vassar Brothers Medical Center (VBMC) in Poughkeepsie.
VBMC has expanded services and seen significant growth in patient volume in recent years, but the hospital has not increased staffing levels. Nurses and caregivers are being forced to take on more patients at once increasing concerns about patient safety and high staff turnover.
“Our Emergency Department is seeing four-times the volume it did in the past. We are stuffed to the brim,” said Thea Gallagher, an RN in VBMC’s Oncology Care Unit.
“When nurses settled our new contract back in December, we were optimistic that management would follow through on promises to increase staffing,” Ms. Gallagher said. “Six months later, staffing is not better, and possibly worse. The number of POAs we’re filing has not abated.”
Compounding the problem is that VBMC’s caregivers (nurses as well as others) are being punished for speaking out or taking a needed sick day. “The work environment at Vassar has become more and more challenging. We’re concerned for the safety of patients and staff. And we’re seeing mandatory overtime, which we thought was behind us, rear its ugly head.”
In the contract ratified last December, nurses won the right to picket and take staffing concerns direct to the community if unable to resolve disputes through labor-management channels. “We exercised this right on April 6 with a candlelight vigil, and again on May 11, and vow to continue to take our message to the public until the hospital does right by its patients and staff,” said Ms. Gallagher.
One positive that has come out of an otherwise negative experience is increased cooperation between NYSNA nurses and 1199SEIU caregivers. “We have the same goal: excellent patient care. The shortages are affecting everyone, so we’re working together to get the hospital back on the right track,” Ms. Gallagher reported.