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Mission nurses rally for staffing solutions, calling current staff levels 'unsafe'

One person dressed as Death with a sign reading, "Unsafe staffing is good for business." Mission Hospital Ashville
Lilly Knoepp
Nurses stood outside to ask for staffing solution for about an hour. One person dressed as Death with a sign reading, "Unsafe staffing is good for business."

Members of the National Nurses United Union at Mission Hospital marched outside the building Thursday morning, asking for a solution to a staff shortage across departments.

Dozens of nurses gathered including a person dressed in a death costume with a sign reading “Unsafe staffing is good for business.” Others were dressed in scrubs, coats and masks.

Elizabeth Binzel is a nurse from the cardiac unit. She says she worked two 15 hours shifts last week - both without a break.  

“That is in no way safe for our patients to have nurses that exhausted,” said Binzel.   

She’s been with Mission since March 2017 and says conditions have gotten worse at the hospital since HCA purchased Mission Health System in 2019.

“Staffing has continued to plummet. We also do not have the supplies that we need,” said Binzel, adding that part of the reason for her long shifts were to make sure her patients were bathed, cleaned and fed. “We’re just being expected to wear all of the hats on top of our own short staffing.”

Binzel says she has been exposed to COVID-19 many times during the pandemic but hasn’t had any access to COVID-19 testing.  National Nurses United Union recently filed a complaint with the North Carolina Department of Labor about Mission’s COVID-19 policies. The complaint is still pending.

Other nurses did not want to share their names for fear of retaliation.  

One who works in the cardiovascular ICU says they have been telling Mission for a long time that staffing levels are unsafe.

“We are really getting nowhere so we are taking our information to the community with the hopes that we will get some safer staffing – which will lead to better patient care,” said the nurse. 

In the union press release about the event, here are some of the staffing issues reported:

●       In the orthopedics unit, nurses report taking up to seven patients at one time even though the unit’s staffing plan calls for nurses to take five patients. This puts joint-replacement patients at increased risk of falling and serious complications.

●       In the neurology unit, nurses reported to their manager that patients could not be bathed or fed and that patient treatments and assessments were delayed due to improper staffing. Their manager responded by attempting to conceal the situation from patients on the unit, not by attempting to find additional staff.

●        In a cardiac unit, a nurse had 10 patients while one patient had multiple seizures.

●        In the cardiac intensive care unit, nurses have been required to take three critically ill heart patients even though their unit staffing plan calls for nurses to take two patients. This led to delayed medications and interventions.

●        In one unit, a nurse reported that a patient was left wandering in the hallway after hospital management was unwilling to provide staff for one-on-one care.

A Mission Health spokesperson says they are following all federal OSHA COVID Emergency Temporary Standards. She also said that they are unaware of documentation to support any of the union’s staffing shortage claims and says these claims haven't seen reported to Mission leadership. 

Mission Health says it has on boarded more than 800 RNs – both travelers and full-time nurses - since spring across the six-hospital system. They also hope to hire at least 500 additional RNs at Mission Hospital.  

The spokesperson added that this shortage of nurses was predicted in 2012 and encourages those interested to apply at Missionhealth.org/careers.

Here’s the list Mission shared of efforts to recruit additional staffing: 

  • Bonuses of up to $15,000 for sign on bonus and up to an additional $15,000 for relocation   
  • Started a CNA training program where we hire and pay for people to go through 6-week training to become a nursing assistant. These positions not only provide support on the units for our RNs, but this certification is also required to enter most nursing programs, with the goal that these colleagues become Mission nurses  
  • Held monthly recruitment events for nursing and nursing support roles, producing some of the 800 RN hires referenced above  
  • Continued partnership with local nursing schools, preceptor programs, charge nurse certification programs  
  • Tuition reimbursement  
  • StaRN program for new graduate nurses  
  • Pathway to professional development for nursing support staff  

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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