After a brutal two years on the entrance strains of the pandemic, nurses at Stanford’s hospitals are on the verge of a strike. As my colleague Emily Hofstaedter reported final week, the nurses’ union, which represents nurses at Stanford Well being Care and Lucile Packard Kids’s Hospital, are demanding higher psychological well being care, staffing help, increased wages, and extra trip time to fight the burnout that has affected an alarming variety of these within the occupation nationwide. In response to the specter of a strike, the hospital mentioned it could droop well being take care of nurses who take part.
With out an settlement with the hospital, the union mentioned it plans to strike starting on Monday. Within the days forward of the deliberate strike, following a flurry of media protection, the hospital scheduled a proper bargaining session on Tuesday, the Mercury Information experiences.
In a press release offered to Mom Jones by way of e mail, Chief Nurse Government and Vice President of Affected person Care Companies for Stanford Well being Care Dale Beatty mentioned the hospital has “proposed extremely aggressive contract phrases,” together with “market-leading pay” and measures meant to boost “nurse staffing and wellness.” “Whereas we respect our nurses’ rights to interact on this work motion,” the assertion reads, “we’re disillusioned that the union has chosen to strike.”
As negotiations proceed, Mom Jones spoke to a nurse who works within the pediatric ICU at Lucile Packard Kids’s Hospital Stanford concerning the working circumstances main as much as this second. Under, she describes in her personal phrases what understaffing in her unit truly seems like, and the way, on high of that, she and her colleagues have seen an insufferable variety of little one deaths within the final yr, each attributable to Covid and never.
Because of concern about retaliation, she requested to stay nameless. Her account has been edited and condensed for readability.
Initially, we didn’t get hit that arduous by Covid. We have been completely ready for grownup overflow. They requested members of the workers, “Hey, if we get grownup ICU overflow sufferers, who can be keen to maintain them?” So I volunteered for that. We made one entire ground of the ICU our Covid ICU. Initially, we have been actually overstaffed. So we have been prepared for issues to be rather a lot worse than they have been for us initially. Covid simply didn’t actually appear to get youngsters that sick. The children that bought sick tended to be youngsters.
In the direction of the top of the summer time of 2020, I believe there was simply the correct mixture of issues: They began doing elective surgical procedures once more, they began doing clinic visits once more, and a few individuals modified models or give up or went on leaves of absence. So beginning in possibly July or August of 2020, we began being short-staffed. We have now been perpetually short-staffed since then. There are occasions once they’re sending out textual content messages saying 10 open shifts, and you’ve got managers begging you, “Hey, are you able to are available for any period of time at this time?” So it’s been an fascinating curler coaster, the place at first we’re pondering, “Gosh, we’re so overstaffed,” to the opposite path, being understaffed and drowning, barely retaining our heads above water.
I believe as soon as we swung to that different path, and began turning into short-staffed and having a unit stuffed with actually sick sufferers, I believe that’s once I began feeling burned out. And to have our hospital not deal with it—and proceed the basic, “Effectively, right here’s some pizza”—it has been actually, actually irritating. Traditionally talking, we now have peaks and valleys in our affected person census all year long. And the truth that we’ve simply been at a relentless peak for therefore lengthy, it’s actually onerous to really feel such as you’ll get any kind of reprieve.
I bear in mind being at work, and somebody telling me about [the suicide of a Stanford nurse earlier this year]. We mentioned it within the break room for slightly bit, however then I had to return to work. I sort of needed to put it out of my head. I couldn’t sit there and course of it as a result of I had sufferers to maintain. I believe it’s a standard characteristic, as a caregiver, as a well being care employee, to place your self and your wants on the backburner. And you may solely do this for therefore lengthy earlier than it catches up with you.
There might be numerous trickle-down penalties of being understaffed. As an example, when you’ve got two sufferers who’re actually sick, and you end up drowning, you’ll be able to’t actually present excellent care to both of them. You may’t be in two locations without delay. One other factor that may occur is, when you’ve got a very sick affected person—somebody who’s intubated, on a ventilator, might be on steady dialysis, might be on ECMO—and if we’re understaffed, you don’t have anyone that will help you if that affected person crashes. It’s possible you’ll want 5 individuals in there, however you’re one individual. You may actually solely do one factor at a time. So numerous instances after we’re understaffed, I believe that it’s detrimental to our sufferers. I really feel like we’re sacrificing the standard of our care. And in some cases, placing ourselves and our sufferers in conditions that aren’t protected.
On our unit, we’re additionally hemorrhaging expert workers. They’re going to different models, the place they received’t should work as onerous, basically. And we’re changing numerous these expert workers members who’ve been there 5, seven years with model new individuals who don’t have any ICU expertise. And if you’re understaffed, it’s important to be impartial and ask for assist out of your neighbors. And these new workers members, they’ll’t assist their neighbors. They want somebody to assist them.
So after a few of these nights the place I don’t sit down, I can’t discover anyone to assist me, I’ll discover myself pondering, “Why am I working this difficult? Why don’t I am going to a special unit the place I could make the identical amount of cash and have it’s higher staffed?”
[Editor’s note: The statement from Stanford’s Dale Beatty reads, “We have made significant investments in nurse staffing in recent years, even as many hospitals face unprecedented staffing challenges. At Stanford Health Care, the clinical nurse population has increased by 36% over the last three years; during the same period at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital our clinical nursing workforce increased by 24.5%. That’s an increase of nearly 1,200 nurses across both hospitals since January 2019.”]
One of many issues I’ve realized to do [for my mental health], is to separate myself from issues that occur at work. It makes me unhappy, however typically I’m very impersonal with sufferers. If dad and mom are within the room, for instance, they usually need to present me a video of what their child appeared like once they have been wholesome and glad—I do know it sounds horrible, however I don’t look. It’s too onerous for me. They’re my affected person proper now. I see them of their present state. I detach myself. That’s how I’m able to maintain doing this work.
Final yr was a very onerous yr. We had numerous deaths. There was one affected person specifically that hit the unit actually onerous. She was about 9 years outdated, and was first admitted across the fall of 2020 with some kind of liquid most cancers, like lymphoma or leukemia. She was actually sick, and she or he was with us for a very long time. However then, she truly began to get higher. She bought to go residence, and she or he was being seen on a kind of outpatient foundation.
Then, in 2021, she bought readmitted with Covid. And we fought actually, actually onerous. She was again in our unit for at the very least a month. And one night time, she coded. We tried to resuscitate her for 40 minutes—which is a very long time to do CPR on any individual—earlier than we lastly referred to as it.
She was somebody that everyone liked. Any night time that I took care of her, I had three or 4 nurses coming by the room to go to and say hello and see how she was doing. And her mother was simply the sweetest individual. And the factor is, when you might have Covid like that, your caregiver can’t depart the room. So her mother was trapped in that room together with her for 30 days. It was devastating.
Not the entire deaths final yr have been Covid sufferers. Some have been robust simply because that they had been with us for months and months. It’s actually onerous to combat for that lengthy, to observe them undergo, to observe them battle. And ultimately, to place them in a physique bag. I do know that a number of individuals who have left over the past yr have mentioned, “Look, I put too many youngsters in physique luggage this yr. I can’t do that anymore.”
I do know individuals who have modified models and are a lot happier. I’ve thought of it, however haven’t gone as far as to submit an software for an additional job. I believe I’m nonetheless hoping that it will get higher.
I voted in favor of authorizing the strike. It’s very disappointing to be referred to as well being care heroes, and have all of this verbal reward lavished on us for the final two years, after which when it comes time to really comply with up these beautiful sentiments with actions, it’s not there. And persons are fed up with it. It’s time to place your cash the place your mouth is. So for me, it was a simple determination to say sure, if it involves it, and our union management thinks we have to strike, I’m all for that.
The vibe [among nurses] at work is that Stanford thinks we now have it adequate, they usually don’t must make it any higher. They’ve bought deep pockets, in order that they’re simply going to attempt to experience us out. On April 15, the hospital mentioned that they’d terminate well being care advantages for placing nurses as of Could 1. I’m at present on a medical depart of absence, and I will maintain my medical health insurance for now. So I really feel actually fortunate and actually lucky. But when we’re nonetheless placing into June, after my depart is over, I’m not so positive. I must in all probability take a look at buying my very own medical health insurance.
In some ways, we do have it excellent in California. There are state-mandated [nurse-to-patient] ratios, there are unions, when you don’t get your breaks there are penalties. I discuss to my mates out on the East Coast, and more often than not, they are saying, “Oh, I’m fortunate if I can beg somebody to observe my sufferers for 10 minutes so I can go to the toilet and eat a doughnut.” And folks in different places are like, “Effectively, you guys have it good in comparison with what we now have.” However I nonetheless don’t assume which means we are able to’t ask for extra. You don’t have to just accept one thing simply because that’s the way in which it’s all the time been.