HPAE declares “CODE RED: Understaffed. Overworked. Unsafe for Everyone.” - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

HPAE declares “CODE RED: Understaffed. Overworked. Unsafe for Everyone.”

Healthcare union’s new position paper details how stress and burnout is causing exodus of workers from New Jersey hospitals; strikes loom across state as healthcare workers fed up over hospital understaffing bargain over expiring contracts

EMERSON—Nurses and other healthcare workers from across New Jersey joined HPAE President Debbie White, RN, at a press conference in Cherry Hill today to call on state legislators to pass a law requiring mandatory safe patient-to-staff ratios in New Jersey hospitals.

White released a new HPAE position paper, CODE RED: Understaffed. Overworked. Unsafe for Everyone. Voices from direct patient care staff calling for mandated staffing ratios in New Jersey’s hospitals, which details the impact that stress and burnout is driving current healthcare workers out of the profession.

“The current patient loads are unsustainable for anyone, and we are hemorrhaging nurses due to the crushing work load we must endure every shift,” HPAE Local 5004 President Alice Barden, RN, said in the position paper. “Understaffing is a public health safety issue – it is eroding patient safety every minute of every day. We must find a way to force our employers to acknowledge our humanity and the humanity of the patients their hospitals are supposed to serve. Nurses are not machines; patients are not dollar signs.”

HPAE Local 5118 President Doris Bell said while her members at Cooper University Health Care will fight to include staffing in the new contract they are currently bargaining with the hospital, it would better if the legislator takes this issue off the bargaining table by passing a law mandating staffing ratio.

White said unionized healthcare workers, including more than half the members at HPAE locals across New Jersey, will go to bargaining tables to negotiate expiring contracts with their employers in 2024 and 2025. The following contracts are either currently under negotiation or are about to get underway:

  • Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, NJ;
  • Cooper University Health Care in Camden, NJ;
  • Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, NJ;
  • Bayonne Medical Center in Bayonne, NJ. and Christ Hospital in Jersey City, NJ CarePoint (CarePoint Health)

“If by having fewer patients we’re able to spend more time with the patients, we can communicate better with them and their families, ease some of their anxiety. That would lessen some of their anger and aggression, people cursing us out. There’s a lot of violence at work, so you’re constantly on guard waiting to see what’s going to happen,” Bell said.

Debbie White said that, along with new incentives to improve recruiting, the state must come up with a plan to retain current direct patient care staff.

“Our legislators must pass ‘The Patient Protection and Safe Staffing Act’ (S2700/A3683) to address the failure of hospitals to retain staff,” White said. “The failure to address retention is akin to filling a bucket full of holes with water.

“In New Jersey, and across the country, new nurses are licensed every year and are hired into hospitals. Unfortunately, we can see them entering our hospitals and leaving just as quickly.  Therefore, we must address the issue causing staff to leave and thereby plug ‘the holes in the bucket.’ The enormous benefits found in the research show that it is the right thing to do and the right time to do it.”

“Patients are anxious and afraid, afraid of the unknown, what’s going to happen,” Bell said. “Having a law that sets the standards on how many patients a nurse should handle at one time will make it possible for a nurse to start every day knowing exactly what they’re going to be dealing with. It would give you the time to be able to sit with the patient and alleviate some of that fear. You can’t know if you don’t have time to sit with them, talk to them about their health, and what’s going on in their lives.”

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HPAE is the largest union of registered nurses and healthcare professionals in New Jersey representing 14,000 nurses, social workers, therapists, technicians, medical researchers, and other healthcare professionals in hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies, blood banks, and university research facilities.  HPAE is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.