Early Thursday morning, members of the Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees joined together outside the University of New Mexico Hospital to protest what they said are unsafe working conditions.
Protesters were there in demand of safe staffing, safe working conditions and fair wages. Many nurses joined the group in their scrubs while getting off their shift or on break, at 6:30 A.M.
A coalition of campus unions were there in support of nurses, including resident physician William Wylie. He works with nurses everyday and said that they are crucial to the hospital. “They're our eyes, ears and hands. They’re with the patients most of the time,” Wylie said.
There is a nationwide shortage of nurses and a rise in travel nurses which has caused a number of issues at UNM hospital. 94% of respondents in an Advanced Medical Personnel Services Healthcare survey – a company that provides temporary healthcare staff to hospitals – said they felt severe or moderate staffing shortages.
A lot of nurses have left the institutions where they have trained to go elsewhere, Wylie said.
“UNM didn’t do anything to try to stop our nurses from leaving. They didn’t offer them any more money, they didn’t try to give them any kind of benefits, they just let them go,” Wylie said.
UNM hospital leadership is not able to increase pay given the hospital's financial situation, according to an article by KRQE News. This has caused unsafe staffing due to shortages, protesters including Wylie and Muir said.
“If you're caring for 20 patients and all of a sudden you only have two nurses or one nurse looking after all those patients, you don’t know what's going on and so that means that it's harder to respond to emergencies – it's harder to get medications passed,” Wylie said.
When short staffed, there is a decrease in the level of care that can be given to a patient, Wylie said. Patients notice, and when they don’t feel like they’re being taken care of, they take it out on the staff, rightfully so.”
Mila Muir, a nurse at UNM hospital, said she was standing at the protest in solidarity with her fellow brothers and sisters for safe staffing and fair wages. Issues at the hospital include the tension created by administration between travel nurses, and nurses who worked at the hospital for a long time, Muir said.
“They (UNMH) continue to have travelers, they care about getting staff in. They don’t care about keeping staff,” Muir said.
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Staffing being decreased is the issue, Muir said. The travel nurses – while good people – are not an adequate solution to the root of the problem.
“It used to be one nurse to four patients, and now it’s one nurse to five patients,” Muir said. Sometimes nurses will work without technicians and other help, which means cleaning and doing other added tasks which were not previously required. This creates more responsibilities with less time, Muir Said.
Travel nurses can provide some support, but they are new and don’t automatically know where supplies and tools are, like where to find gloves and syringes, Wylie said. While it takes travel nurses time to get adjusted, Wylie said all of the nurses that knew the hospital well have left.
“I’m sure you could imagine if you or your family member was in the hospital, you would want them to get the most attention they can – the right kind of care. And if there aren’t enough nurses on the floor, they don’t feel taken care of and that comes back on all of us and it makes it harder to do our jobs … At the end of the day, the quality of our care is suffering. We don’t feel good about it. We want to do the best that we can for people,” Wylie said.
Wylie said his colleagues will work 24 hour shifts and are tasked with taking on the work of the nurses who might not know the hospital as well, causing frequent lack of sleep.
In the psychiatric hospital where Wylie works, he said regularly staffed nurses are great at forming relationships with and knowing the patients' habits, which allowed many patients to feel safe and comfortable.
“One of the issues that we’ve been seeing is when we have not enough nurses to take care of people, or we have strangers coming in. We don’t know how to interact with our patients anymore so we’ve had a couple of assaults,” Wylie said.
The situation this creates, Wylie said, “breaks his heart” because of how it can harm both patients and staff. The goal of the protest was for the community to put pressure on the hospital to try and maintain staff at UNM by providing them with fair wages, Wylie said.
“Patient safety is only possible with safe staffing,” the group protesting chanted.
Miyawni Curtis is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @MiyawniCurtis
Miyawni Curtis is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo and served as the Summer 2023 news editor. She can be contacted on Twitter @MiyawniCurtis