Minnesota faces largest private sector nurses strike in U.S. history

correction

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that there was no indication the work stoppages would spread to other states. However, nurses’ unions in at least two other states have also authorized strikes in the past month. The article has been corrected.

Approximately 15,000 nurses in Minnesota walked off the job Monday to protest understaffing and overwork, marking the largest strike by private-sector nurses in US history.

Scheduled to last three days, the strike highlights a nationwide nursing shortage exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that often results in patients not receiving adequate care. Tensions remain high between nurses and health care administrators across the country, and there are signs the work stoppages could spread to other states.

Minnesota nurses report that some units operate without a lead nurse on duty and that nurses fresh out of school are delegated tasks often filled by more experienced nurses, at some 16 hospitals where strikes are expected.

Nurses are demanding a role in staffing plans, changes in shift scheduling practices, and higher wages.

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“I can’t give my patients the care they deserve,” said Chris Rubesch, vice president of the Minnesota Nurses Association and a nurse practitioner at Essentia Health in Duluth. “Call lights go unanswered. Patients only need to wait a few seconds or minutes if they get dirty or their oxygen is turned off or need to go to the bathroom, but that can take 10 minutes or more. Those are things that can’t wait.”

Paul Omodt, a spokesman for the Twin Cities Hospital Group, which represents four hospital systems where nurses are striking in Minneapolis-St. Paul said the nurses’ union did not do everything possible to prevent a strike.

“The nurses have flatly refused to go to mediation,” Omodt said. “His choice is to attack. This strike is against the nurses.”

Conny Bergerson, a spokeswoman for Allina Health, another hospital system in the Twin Cities where nurses are on strike, said “rushing into a strike before exhausting all options, such as hiring a neutral federal mediator, is not in the best interest of our employees, patients or the communities they serve.”

The Minnesota Nurses Association, the nurses’ union, said hospital administrators have continued to “reject solutions” over understaffing and security in contract negotiations. He said nurses have been increasingly asked to see more patients for bedside care to make up for labor shortages, which exacerbate burnout and high turnover.

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Some hospitals have offered increased security protocols for reporting security incidents in negotiations, but have not budged on other demands related to security and staffing.

The union has proposed new mechanisms for nurses to have greater influence over ward staffing, including a committee made up of nurses and managers at each hospital that would determine appropriate staffing levels. It has also proposed retaliation protections for nurses who report understaffing. Striking nurses at some hospitals said their shifts are often short of five to 10 nurses, forcing nurses to take on more patients than they can handle.

Omodt said that while there was an increase in understaffing reports during the height of Covid, conditions have improved and nurses have made conflicting claims when it comes to staffing at their hospitals since then.

In the run-up to the strike, Minnesota hospital groups filed unfair labor practice charges against the union for refusing to mediate, and petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to block the strike for failing to provide sufficient notice. The NLRB has thrown out at least some of those charges.

Hospitals facing strikes have been recruiting traveling nurses from across the region and plan to maintain staffing levels during the strike, though they are preparing for scaled-down operations, according to some of the hospital groups facing strike activity.

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For years, hospitals in the United States have faced problems of understaffing. An increase in demand and heightened safety risks for nurses during the pandemic accelerated those trends. The number of healthcare workers in the United States has yet to recover to its pre-pandemic levels, down 37,000 workers compared to February 2020.

At the same time, the demand for health care services has risen steadily during the pandemic, with a backlog of people delaying care now. seeking medical attention. During the wave of covid that swept across the United States this summer, states like New York and Florida reported the worst nursing shortage in decades. Research shows that patients are more likely to die from preventable reasons when healthcare providers are overworked.

Nurses, who risked their lives during the pandemic, are quitting and retiring early en masse, due to increased workloads caused by staff shortages and demanding schedules that make finding child care and making a living out of the question. of work extremely difficult. The workforce shortage crisis is pronounced in Minnesota in part due to its aging population and its record low unemployment rate.

There are some signs that strikes by nurses and other health care workers could spread to other states in the coming weeks. Four thousand nurses from the Michigan Nurses Association voted earlier this month to authorize a strike related to staffing issues, and 7,000 health care workers in Oregon have also authorized a work stoppage. Nurses at the University of Wisconsin narrowly avoided a strike this week. Therapists and doctors in Hawaii and California are currently in the fourth week of what has become the longest-running program. mental health strikeabout inadequate staffing levels.

In Minnesota, the Minnesota Nurses Association recorded 300 percent Increase in nurse reports of unsafe staffing levels on their shifts since 2014, to 7,857 reports in 2021.

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Kelley Anaas, 37, a nurse working in the Abbott Northwestern ICU in Minneapolis, said nurses on her unit have been forced to double patient assignments and work with nurse leaders who have less than a year of experience.

“It eats at you. If that was my family member in that bed, I wouldn’t want to leave his side,” Anaas said, adding that his workload has steadily increased during his 14 years at Abbott Northwestern.

While the nurses say their main impetus for the strike is staffing levels and not pay, they also disagree with the hospitals over wages. The Minnesota Nurses Association has proposed a 30 percent pay increase over the next three years, noting inflation is at its highest point in 40 years, while health care groups have proposed a 10 percent pay increase over the next three years. 12 percent.

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“The union’s wage demands remain at 29 and 30 percent increases for three years, which we’ve told them is unrealistic and unaffordable,” Omodt said, noting that the average Minnesota nurse earns $80,960 a year.

The contracts expired in May and June, and the union has been in negotiations since March.

The nurses said they are frustrated by the strike, but the stakes are high for them and their patients.

“We are really sad and disappointed that a strike has occurred,” said Brianna Hnath, a nurse at North Memorial in Robbinsdale. “But we think this is the only thing we can do to show management how incredibly important a strong nursing core is to a hospital. Hospitals tell us it’s our fault, but we’ve been actively involved and we’ve gotten nowhere.”

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