Taken from NJ.com
By Spencer Kent
September 15, 2022
More than half the union nurses at a New Jersey hospital wouldn’t feel safe being treated at their own facility.
An overwhelming majority said the hospital is not a good place to work. And the nurses say they frequently face crushing workloads that put “patients and staff at risk.”
Those are just a few of the accusations leveled against Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center in a withering new report released Thursday by Health Professionals and Allied Employees, the state’s largest union representing health care workers.
“Nothing could be more damning than to have 54 percent of RN [registered nurse] respondents say they would not feel safe being treated at JSUMC, even though they work in the hospital,” the 16-page survey said.
Hackensack Meridian Health, the health system that runs the Neptune hospital, declined to immediately comment until it can review the report, a spokesperson said.
HPAE is currently in negotiations with the health system over a new contract for its members.
Jersey Shore University Medical Center has been an embattled facility during the COVID-19 pandemic. Union members have accused the hospital of failing to provide sufficient personal protective equipment, forcing them to use suspect respirators and firing a union leader in April 2020 for speaking out about PPE issues. He eventually won his job back through arbitration.
The hospital also was among those slapped with fines in 2020 by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for “serious” citations over workplace conditions and unmet regulatory standards involving masks and other PPE.
In the past, Hackensack Meridian has denied the union’s allegations and contested the OSHA citations.
“This is something we’ve known, we’ve heard from our members for a really long time,” HPAE President Debbie White told NJ Advance Media.
She added, “Hackensack meridian is going to have to do an about-face and how they deal with their workers … The paper shows you how much money they’ve made over the course of just the last three years, and when you compare that money with the data that you’re looking at from the members, it’s dismaying.”
The report also called out Hackensack Meridian Health, one of the largest health networks in New Jersey, about the profits it has generated in recent years.
“Should a health system that made almost two billion dollars ($1,679,636,000) in profit over the past three years alone, be allotted $1,030,867,507 in federal pandemic relief funds? What does HMH need relief from?” the report said.
More than 600 Jersey Shore University nurses from HPAE Local 5058 participated in the survey, which began Dec. 31 and closed on July 19. The report included several quotes from those health care workers, whose identities were withheld.
Over the past few months, many experienced nurses have left over a “lack of organization and support,” one nurse said in the survey. The worker also said a staff shortage, exacerbated by dozens of sick workers during a recent COVID-19 surge, resulted in nurses caring for six patients instead of the usual four.
“Some nurses having multiple ICU patients and COVID patients, this has been beyond unsafe,” the nurse said. “Internal triage held up wards of 50 patients with COVID patients mixed [in] with non-COVID patients. The worst being no staff available to care for these people.
“These patients were sitting in soiled clothing. Not medicated as per orders due to lack of staff. … they are putting patients and staff at risk.”
Another nurse said widespread worker burnout has been largely ignored by the registered nonprofit corporation, while Hackensack Meridian Health gave “handouts of chocolate bars, a cafeteria voucher, or a petting zoo.” The worker called the measures “an insult.”
“We are adults, worthy of dignity and respect and not kindergarteners, dazzled by candy and a puppy,” the nurse said.
In the report, HPAE claims Hackensack Meridian “capitalizes off the labor of overworked, underpaid staff, while the corporation is rewarded with record profits.” Nearly 80% of respondents said hospital management “does not take adequate steps to keep them safe,” adding that it is “a clear indictment of HMH’s lack of urgency around these issues.”
The bottom line, some of the surveyed nurses say, is staffing levels are “absolutely unsafe.”
“I was recently in a three-patient assignment and another patient coded and I was pulled away from my patients to assist with the code,” one nurse said. “I am frequently in a three-patient assignment and our patients are suffering.”