By KENDALL KEYS, JAMES PAXSON
MICHIGAN (WNEM) — A surge of coronavirus hospitalizations and a shortage of staff is putting frontline workers at the end of their rope. A problem that may push one nurse’s union to go on strike.
Michigan has a little more than 28,000 total hospital beds with nearly 19,000 occupied for about 67 percent occupancy. Those numbers include all patients, the vast majority of whom do not have COVID-19.
The problem is there are fewer employees to take care of those patients. The pandemic has overwhelmed America’s health systems and hospitals are losing staff left and right.
Bill Sohmer is the president of AFSCME Local 2650.
“It’s widespread. It’s not just McLaren, it’s across the country,” Sohmer said, “Nobody’s wanting to it seems like come back into the job field.”
The union represents hospital support staff like nurse aides.
“Everybody has sort of forgotten about all the support staff that are in these hospitals providing these services,” Sohmer said.
The union is negotiating a contract with McLaren Flint and McLaren Lapeer.
“We’re kind of at a stalemate. We just feel like we don’t get the respect we deserve as far as all the care and jobs that we do,” Sohmer said.
Among the sticking points is the nurse aide to patient ratio.
“Normally we would have one nurse aids for 12 patients. Now it’s not uncommon to have one nurse aid for 37 patients,” Sohmer said.
Triple the responsibility, but without a substantial raise in pay. Sohmer said that takes a toll on the employee.
“You just can’t accomplish all your tasks in a day when you have 37 patients. They’re burnt out, just like all of the nurses. They’re hitting that wall of being burnt out, tired, frustrated, and they just don’t see an end in sight,” Sohmer said.
He notes a hospital short in staff could be dangerous for patients.
“If you have a patient that needs assistance walking to the restroom and there’s no one there and they’re not answering the call light, a lot of times they try on their own. Now that’s going to increase slip and falls,” Sohmer said.
The two sides will be back at the negotiating table Monday and Tuesday. If they don’t come to an agreement.
“If we don’t have a contract, we will go forward with a 10-day strike notice,” Sohmer said.
McLaren Flint sent this statement to TV5:
“It is regrettable AFSCME Local 2650 representatives believe the only way to reach a fair deal is to jeopardize our employees’ livelihood and job security by taking them on strike. We have been bargaining in good faith for more than four months to negotiate a fair contract for our valued non-technical employees.
All health care organizations throughout the nation are experiencing challenges recruiting and retaining employees during these unprecedented times. Prior to contract negotiations, we even offered to pay our nurse aides in certain areas incentives to address some of those concerns. However AFSCME refused to agree to those incentive programs.
Since negotiations began, we have offered significant wage increases that average between 4% and 12% depending on the job classification, an appreciation bonus, and raising the minimum rate of pay. In addition, we have – and will continue to – work on creative solutions to retain and recruit these valuable frontline health care workers.
We are back in negotiations next week to reach an agreement with the right terms for our employees and our hospital before the expiration of the contract on September 30, 2021.”
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