On the morning of Thursday, May 12, employees at the University of New Mexico Hospital held a picket line outside of the hospital’s entrance on Lomas Boulevard to speak out against severe understaffing, an issue that has endangered both patients and employees alike.
Amanda Gutierrez works in the neurology unit at UNM-H and was a part of Thursday’s picket line. She said that short staffing at the hospital recently led to her recieving an injury on the job.
“We're usually supposed to have nine nurses staffed, but lately we've been lucky to have five to six. So our patients aren't getting the care that they should be receiving, and we just want to make sure that our patients stay safe, that we stay safe. I just recently got injured from not having anybody to help me with a patient, and it's just, it's getting worse,” Gutierrez said.
The workers’ union at UNM-H, District 1199 UNM-H, is currently in the negotiation process to secure better working conditions. Executive director of District 1199 Eleanor Chavez said they were out picketing to call for safe staffing, an issue that affects everyone at the hospital, from doctors and nurses to the housekeeping staff.
Chavez said this issue is especially timely because of the sentencing of former Tennessee nurse RaDonda Vaught; She was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult, a lesser sentence from the original reckless homicide indictment, for giving a patient the wrong medicine and subsequently killing them. Many nurses across the nation have stood up in her defense asking for protection as nurses and fearing it could cause under-reporting of mistakes, according to WKRN news.
“Our folks are concerned that the short staffing, the critical staffing that the hospital is in right now, will also put their licenses in jeopardy and patients in jeopardy as well,” Chavez said.
One of the solutions the union has suggested is a “grow-your-own” proposal which would encourage current hospital employees to pursue further degrees in fields like nursing or respiratory therapy, which are currently short-staffed and being filled by traveling employees, according to Chavez.
“So we really want to reduce the amount of travelers, but we also want to see our own folks inside also be able to go to school and get advanced degrees,” Chavez said.
Gutierrez said she has since been put on light duty due to her injury, putting further strain on her unit. She said that this is something that community members need to remember affects everyone in the state.
“Everybody uses UNM(-H). We're the only (comprehensive stroke center) here in the state. We’re the only level one trauma center in the state. Everybody relies on us to know, so the community is just as affected by this as we are, so they need to speak up and fight alongside us,” Gutierrez said.
Norma Bojorquez has worked in the sterile processing unit at UNM-H for the past six years and has seen conditions worsen and lots of people leave, largely due to bullying and toxic work environments.
“We've done the grievances on bullying over and over, and the hospital makes it impossible to win them. They're the deciding party in the end, and they don't validate the work environments that we are experiencing,” Bojorquez said.
Bojorquez wants the care to be the best possible for every patient, but unsafe staffing can impact the care people receive; Lack of proper care can have dire consequences.
“It's a job that's to not be taken lightly. Take it very seriously; it's to be done very thoroughly,” Bojorquez said. “Because if we don't process those instruments properly for our patients, not only can they get severe infections … you can have patients die if they're not processed properly.”
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @maddogpukite