Calls for change resonate during nurses’ march in Washington
Nurses traveled from across the country this week to rally in Washington, DC, and raise their voices for change on International Nurses Day.
The Nurses’ March drew nurses from California to Connecticut as they gathered to mourn nurses who lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses’ Walk executive director Marla Barthen said she organized the event “because I felt the loss and I knew all of my nurses felt the loss.”
Amid a day of remembrance and inspiring messages, nurses pledged to unite to promote improvements in their work environment that would benefit them and their patients.
The questions that dominated the Nurses’ March speeches were:
- Safe patient-staff ratios that support better care
- Protection against violence and abuse towards nurses
- Higher pay for nurses to meet high demands and responsibility
- Work environments that support the well-being of nurses
Advocacy for safe staffing ratios
We spoke with nurses who came to the event to talk about themselves and their colleagues. Strong feelings about the high patient-to-staff ratios they endured during the pandemic were pervasive. They said they cared deeply about their work and felt taken advantage of by a continued understaffing.
Stephanie Gattas, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Founder of the Pink Berets, a sponsor of the event, said, “Our nation has fallen to its knees with COVID-19. Our healthcare workers were the first to answer the call.
Nurses faced grueling shifts and a shortage of protective gear. In light of these barriers, Gattas said, “Having underpaid healthcare workers is an injustice. Understaffing is an injustice. The Pink Berets provide aid and relief to women in the armed forces, veterans, first responders, and more.
Nurses discussed work environments where they felt compelled to set aside their personal needs for food, bathroom breaks and rest, as they did not want to let their colleagues and patients down when staff were not is not high enough to meet patient demand.
Speaking at the walk, Tina Vinsant, Traveling Registered Nurse at Trusted Health and host of the Good Nurse, Bad Nurse podcast, said: “Studies have shown that patient outcomes are directly linked to staffing ratios. into safe personnel.
A meta-analysis of hospital staffing and patient outcomes in 2018 found that higher levels of staffing were associated with reduced mortality and fewer medication errors, ulcers, use of restraints, infections, pneumonia and other beneficial outcomes.
A National Nurses United survey released in April found that 69% of hospital nurses surveyed said staffing had gotten worse recently, and 64.5% said their facilities were using excessive overtime to staff units. hospital.
At the Nurses’ Walk, co-sponsored by Nurse.com, Vinsant said high patient-to-nurse ratios lead to nurse burnout and shattered dreams.
“There is no shortage of nurses. There is a shortage of nurses willing to work at the bedside,” she said. “A big part of the problem is that hospitals are unwilling to do what it takes to have enough bedside nurses.”
One of the nurses who came to the Nurses Walk, Lisa Kjar, BSN, RN, CEN, CPN, TNC, Emory Midtown University Hospital Rapid Response Team in Atlanta, shared her feelings of being under -evaluated. At the start of the pandemic, “the whole world stopped and everyone was rendered helpless,” she said, but the nurses did not stop working.
She and Ashley Teague, another Emory nurse, tearfully shared their stories of having to watch patients die when their families couldn’t be there due to infection control regulations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “In one week, we lost 16 patients over a seven-day period,” Teague said.
Kjar pointed out the toll this kind of repeated loss takes on a nurse. “Not only did we take care of them, but we accompanied them in their afterlife,” she said. “The difference we make matters. We deserve to be treated with respect.”
Dealing with Violence and Abuse
The nurses also recalled enduring physical and verbal abuse. Amanda Littleton, RN, CPN, an Atlanta-area nurse, said she was attacked by patients with a punch in the face. Teague said she was assaulted by a patient who touched her breasts. “We’re programmed not to prioritize security reports for ourselves,” Teague said.
Sandra Risoldi, DNP, APRN, MSN Ed, PMHNP-BC, Founder of Nurses Against Violence, an event sponsor, said, “Prevention is key. It is vital to prevent problems before they get worse.
Nurses do their jobs despite these challenges because “we have compassion,” Littleton said, but she sometimes feels like compassion trumps their own health and safety.
A health care aide participating in the march, Paul Tomczuk, CNA, who works in the St. Louis area, said he dealt with difficult and combative patients and also received punches. He expressed concern that more and more nurses are burning out and leaving amid the challenges of high patient-to-nurse ratios, the stress of the pandemic and the potential for patient violence.
Salary concerns in a stressful job
In addition to existing challenges, nurses are hearing about legislators questioning their compensation. A January letter from lawmakers asked federal agencies to investigate recruitment agency pricing to see if they are anti-competitive or violate consumer protection laws. The nurses have heard reports that lawmakers intend to cap their pay, but that information is not requested in the letter.
At a time when nurses are seeing encouraging pay rises, the threat of lawmakers getting involved in limiting their pay has drawn cries of anger. If lawmakers want to limit salaries, Tomczuk said, they should look at the salaries of hospital CEOs.
Our research shows that 25% of nurses reported salary increases amid the pandemic, as reported in our 2022 Nurses Salary Survey report, but 9% reported decreases. Some nurses earn higher pay by becoming traveling nurses, and many have chosen to travel during the pandemic.
Tomczuk said the higher salaries in recent years were welcome after years of low salaries. Rather than looking at the limits, he said, “Let the market bear what it can.”
Supporting nurse diversity and well-being
Improving the healthcare work environment was another big concern for Nurses’ Walk participants, as nurses continue to deal with high patient numbers and loss of life. As nurses came together to mourn their colleagues and patients lost during the pandemic, Cara Lunsford, RN, Founder and CEO of HOLLIBLU and Vice President of Community at Nurse.com, said, “The path to healing is to to be able to sit in our sorrow.”
As nurses continue to care for patients with COVID-19, the well-being of staff is a major concern. In a video speech, Janice Maloof-Tomaso, RN, said, “We also need to protect the mental health of our colleagues and keep our nurses alive. She called for more support from hospital administrators and annual mental health allowances for nurses.
Working in an inclusive environment is another important part of nurses’ well-being. “Representation matters. However, adding a diverse staff is just the beginning,” said Bryanna Patterson, RN, speaking and representing the Rochester Black Nurses Association at the event. Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) nurses deserve access to power, influence and support in their roles, she said.
Patterson also called for adequate funding and tools to eliminate racism, which she said is “a public health crisis.” To advance inclusiveness in nursing, Patterson said, “We have to be the change we want to see in health care.”
Speak up for future improvements
When asked what changes they hoped to see, a group of nurses from Gaylord, Michigan, shared their thoughts. Frankie Mullins, RN, who currently works in correctional health care, said she would like to see more training, more work time allocated for training, and adequate resources to provide a safe work environment.
Registered nurse Gwendolyn Weber, who works in home nursing and medical surgery in Gaylord, said pressure to fill beds despite understaffing is resulting in nurses feeling a lack of support from the direction to get the job done right. “Ask management to do some hands-on work from time to time,” she suggested, so she can really understand what nurses are going through. She also called for more training for managers to help nurses feel supported.
When patient counts spike in the middle of a shift, supervising nurses need to be prepared, Vicky Hilario said. She said she was tired of hearing, “It is what it is. Instead, “supervisors need a back-up plan to recruit more nurses.”
Trish Richardson, MSN, BSBA, RN, NE-BC, CMSRN, director of post-acute care solutions at Relias and president-elect of the North Carolina Nurses Association (NCNA), was quick to point out that walking and frank discussions about the health care system illustrates the intention of nurses to clarify their needs.
“We are not going backwards, we are moving forward. It’s time to be heard,” Richardson said.
“We must lift each other up!” Risoldi said.
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