Nursing Blog

When Nurses Strike

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Tough Times at Tufts Medical Boston, MA

So what’s going on in Boston today? Well… Nurses once again have banded together and have now taken it to the streets in the first large scale strike here in over 30 years. There have been many threats of walk outs and we have had some very close calls not surprisingly, as of course, Boston is just about the epicenter in this country for all things medical. A strike is bound to happen time and again. But thankfully most are avoided. Usually, the clock ticks down to the final hour and agreements are made before things have a chance of getting ugly. Not this time at Tufts. It is sad and troubling for the community when a strike happens and it is usually the absolute last resort despite what some people may believe.

During a hospital strike, not only are the workers and patients affected by it, but also the local communities in a big way. Patients are triaged to other area hospitals causing cramped and unsafe conditions. Patients who now may be diverted are en route longer to get to another facility, putting them at a greater risk for declining health. Ancillary employees, ambulance, police and fire personnel also have to make necessary adjustments. These are just a few of the many effects a strike has. The decision to strike is absolutely not an easy one. I have never known any nurse or have spoken to any member of a nurses union, the MNA (Massachusetts Nurses Association) being the one here, that wants to even come close to this as a means of negotiation.

We have a local radio show here in town called “Matty in the Morning”. Matt Segal, who is the host, I recall listening to one morning when the Brigham and Women’s hospital nurses were close to striking not too long ago. I became incensed when Matt said something to the effect of “How can nurses strike? They should be put in jail if they do as they are abandoning their patients.” While I think Matty is hilarious and I absolutely do understand his logic, the remark was one based on ignorance which is not always uncommon for Mr. Segal. (Sorry Matty. Love you.) Nurses become nurses why? Because they care. Nurses care many times when no one else does. We are paid to care. We killed ourselves in school to get this job of caring. We care even when the last damn thing we want to do is care but we still care damn it……. I was on a roll there for a moment, sorry. So as I was saying, we are caregivers by nature and yes, I do realize there are some bad seeds and a few nuts in every bunch who slide into the job. God don’t I know it. But this is seen in every profession. As a rule, nurses usually are overly caring and quite frankly, they are generally people who put others needs before their own, going against the very survival instincts that they are born with. Okay, I may be slightly exaggerating for effect. But it is known that nurses have a tendency to be codependents. Not all, but many. I actually know of support groups. So we are quite known to care even more about other people at times than we do ourselves (not good, but sort-of true). I know I am going slightly over the top here and painting a picture of us as caring, co-dependent super heroes. But, kind-a-sort of…. Aren’t we fairly close?

Nurses help. We save lives. We work through shifts without even going to the bathroom or taking a lunch, (the union frowns on this, as it should). We come to work in the worst of weather. We work doubles when there is a staffing issue. We are first responders and we don’t discriminate (usually). A life is a life and we are there to help no matter whose life it is. We provide care to people that we do not even know and may never see again or ever want to see again. So Matty, we never, ever want to abandon our patients, well, most of them anyway. It goes against the very premise of what we have chosen to do with our lives. Care for you and yours.

I do understand that some people see things the way that Matty does and as I said, a strike is extremely unfortunate. But what is even more unfortunate is the senseless injuries, illnesses, and deaths of patients all brought about by unsafe staffing issues. What is also an area of concern is the nurses leaving the bedside in droves as they are over worked, under paid and burnt out. Does anyone care about them?

The number one gripe of nurses who strike is unsafe staffing issues that are affecting patient safety.

I am quite sure you all have been in the hospital or have had a loved one who has and has experienced or heard the complaint that the patient was calling for the nurse who never came. Or, the nurse said that she would be right back and she has never been seen again. I know some of you imagine he or she is sitting in the break room, feet up, and maybe watching an episode of Maury. But let me assure you…that is highly unlikely. You can safely bet that your nurse is probably down the hall with another patient that maybe, just fell out of bed, cardiac arrested or is bleeding out, etc. Whatever in fact is going on, it is more important than your call light and need to go to the bathroom at the immediate moment. The nurse had to prioritize who needed he or she the most, and it may not have been you or your loved one. Does that make it better? No, of course not. It is absolutely not ok, and this is the problem.

So what can happen next when there is not enough nurses or staff in the call light/bathroom scenario? Well, you or your loved one have now been ringing the call light for an hour to get assistance to go to the bathroom after being specifically instructed by the nurse not to get up on your own. What do you do? Well, when no one arrives and you have to go well, you go! You or yours next decide to, of course, get up unsafely because hey, you have to go and you’re not going to just go in the bed if you can help it. You didn’t realize how weak you were because maybe you just had surgery on your knee or are being treated for pneumonia. Or, maybe you are connected to IV poles and have drains coming out from everywhere and forgot for a moment because you are medicated. So you get up. The next thing you know, you are on the floor. This is horrible and unacceptable, and yet it happens all of the time.

 

But the light at the end of the tunnel is…… You are now in luck! You, quite possibly are the new priority patient. The nurses will reappear and now be in your room for an hour or more, all of the while ignoring someone else’s call light who just needs a little assist to the bathroom also. You can get creative, and choose to think of this as some type of demented game, hoping that you are not last on the floor or that you are the first one down, hence now you are getting the most attention. Or you can see it for what it really is, in that THERE IS NOT ENOUGH STAFF!

This is a large reason why your nurses are saying enough is enough! The issue is not only about overworked nurses, it’s a problem for you and yours. A big problem! So when you see some nurses striking, please realize that yes, they may be asking for a better wage or have an issue with an allocation of benefits. Some other complaints may also be on their agenda. But please know the biggest complaint of almost any nurse and especially any nurse on strike is patient safety. It always has been. We want you to be safe and to help you heal safely. We need more of us to do that.

Let’s stand in solidarity with Tufts nurses, or any nurses striking. You deserve more and so do we.

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