Registered nurses at Greenbrier Valley Medical Center (GVMC) in Ronceverte held an informational picket Saturday, May 18 to speak out about the eroding conditions at the hospital, including chronic short staffing, inadequate supplies, and maintenance problems that undermine hygiene.
Nurses were joined on the picket line by elected officials, including West Virginia governor candidate Steve Smith, West Virginia House of Delegates member Jeff Campbell, and Lacy Watson, candidate for Congress. Many community organizations and labor unions also picketed in solidarity, including teachers from the West Virginia United Caucus, Utility Workers Union of America, UE Local 170, UFCW Local 400, SEIU Local 1, Labor Notes, and Democratic Socialists of America.
“It was a great turnout, with so many community groups and organizations coming out to stand in solidarity with the nurses in our call for change. This was a clear message to management that patient care conditions must come before profits,” said ICU registered nurse Pat Franson. “We are very appreciative of the community support.”
RNs say an issue of paramount importance to patient care is having consistently safe staffing levels, and “currently that’s not happening” at GVMC, according to ICU RN Tara Brammer.
Across the hospital industry the accepted standard for safe staffing in an ICU is a nurse to patient ratio of 1:1 or 1:2, depending on patient acuity. At GVMC nurses in the ICU are regularly assigned up to three patients and sometimes four, and the hospital relies on pulling nurses from other units, who have not been provided appropriate orientation to the ICU, to make up for shortfalls in staffing in that unit.
Short staffing is chronic in other units as well, including Med/Surg units where nurses are often assigned to care for nine patients. According to well-established research every patient over four assigned to one nurse in a Med/Surg unit could increase mortality by seven percent per patient.
The hospital has difficulty filling vacancies, which has exacerbated the staffing problems over the past few months. Nurses say they are bargaining for a contract that guarantees the support and resources they need to provide safe, quality patient care, and that this in turn will improve the hospital’s ability to recruit new nurses and retain the nurses they currently have.
GVMC is owned by Community Health Systems (CHS), a hospital chain based in Franklin, TN. The chain owns 106 hospitals in 18 states, including Bluefield Regional Medical Center in Bluefield, WV. A report released May 13 documents CHS’ track record of buying hospitals in rural, non-urban markets, where lack of competition enables their charging some of the highest healthcare prices in the industry while investing as little as possible in infrastructure, staffing and supplies.
RNs at GVMC voted to affiliate with National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) in 2012, in response to management’s continued failure to improve patient care conditions. CHS has engaged in rampant and serious unfair labor practices in an attempt to weaken support for the union and forestall reaching an initial collective bargaining agreement. The NLRB has upheld numerous unfair labor practice charges filed against GVMC and other CHS-affiliated hospitals by NNOC/NNU and three US District Courts issued injunctions in response to the employer’s unlawful conduct early in contract negotiations with RNs.
National Nurses Organizing Committee is affiliated with National Nurses United, the largest and fastest growing union of RNs in the nation. NNU has won landmark health and safety protections for nurses and patients in the areas of staffing, safe patient handling, infectious disease and workplace violence protection.