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OFNHP Joins White House Delegation to Discuss Nursing Amidst the Pandemic and Staffing Crisis

On Wednesday, May 18th, OFNHP’s  Kaiser Permanente RN Bargaining Unit Chair Joshua Holt, representing both OFNHP and the Nurses and Health Professionals division of the American Federation of Teachers, joined a nursing delegation at the White House to address the crisis that healthcare workers are facing across the country. Meeting with senior policy advisors, Holt was joined by other healthcare leaders, such as the Vice President of National Nurses United (NNU), a U.S. Army Colonel RN who ran the European COVID response for the U.S. military, the Chief of Nursing Services for Veteran Affairs, the President of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, an RN from SEIU Local 512, a nurse representing Planned Parenthood, and a community mental health RN, among others, all discussing how the situation has been the past two years.

In a roundtable conversation, Holt and our allies shared exactly what is at stake with our staffing crisis and how it’s affecting healthcare professionals.

“Staffing was driven home really hard…and the need for a national policy on ratios,” says Holt, who noted that they discussed various policy possibilities for implementing ratios, such as creating a ratio policy inside of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that could then influence all healthcare operations that receive Medicare or Medicaid patients.

Our colleagues addressed exactly what the industry has lost the past two years: 500,000 nurses have left the industry, and we need 1.1 million new RNs to replace them. Holt discussed how a break is forming in the educational pipeline since nursing faculty are in an extreme shortage because their standard pay is so much less than what a staff RN can make working on the floor. If we want to ensure that we get up to full staffing levels we will have to see an intervention in the educational system that will make it feasible for RNs to move towards education.

The loss of staff has come from excessive workloads, incredible trauma, a persistent lack of resources, and disturbing recent developments (i.e. the nurse who was criminally charged for making a mistake). All of which continue to exacerbate the situation. “We are seeing people leave and we are seeing nurses not wanting to do what is best for the patient outside of their normal work because they are afraid if they make a mistake they could end up in jail,” says Holt. Targeting healthcare professionals for the consequences brought on by overwork and a lack of resources diverts the blame from hospital and healthcare leadership, where it belongs, and onto the professionals who are saving lives. 

The stress healthcare professionals are facing was a top concern, and stories about recent RN suicides, particularly one at a Santa Clara Kaiser Emergency Department (followed by a second one at Stanford Medical Center), were discussed as a result of the crisis we are currently living through. NNU’s Vice President pointed out that once ratios were established at some of their clinics and hospitals, many of the nurses who left came back. Once healthcare professionals saw that the staffing issue was being mitigated, they were willing to return and rejoin the workforce.

The hope is that this conversation is the first step in building long-term political allies that can help us to create a collaborative series of policy solutions that will help with our staffing and other issues. Safe staffing is the top issue that unites us across every bargaining unit, employer, and worksite, and this is also what we have in common with other organizations who are advocating for RNs and health professionals. Through our Political Education and Action Committee (PEAC) our members are putting their eyes toward politics in an effort to address our issues more fully, and we will continue to step out in front of these issues and act as a public voice in advocating for a safe staffing model.

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