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University of Michigan Health nurses fight for lower nurse-to-patient ratios

Posted at 6:24 PM, Aug 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 18:24:58-04

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — The COVID-19 pandemic has put pressure on nurses across the country, leading to a shortage of nurses that is expected to get worse.

Now nurses at University of Michigan Health are speaking out saying it is putting patients at risk. Thursday evening nurses held a town hall in Ann Arbor, sharing how they say a shortage of nurses on duty is impacting patients.

Around the country, nurses are in demand. The 2022 NSI National Health Care Retention and RN Staffing Report surveyed hospitals and found in 2021 the average RN vacancy rate or percent of unfilled jobs was 9.9%. In 2022, it is running at more than 17% on average.

Why is this? The report says one of the reasons is nurses are leaving their jobs citing personal reasons, salary, and workload.

“Nurses are leaving because they feel stressed, burned out and we are adding to their workload,” said Adam Paulsen, a Pediatric ICU nurse with University of Michigan Health.

Paulsen says the burden of unfilled jobs, not just in nursing but support roles, is falling on nurses.

“I don’t have enough respiratory therapists to help me. I don’t have enough nurse techs to help me. I don’t have enough nurses to help me,” said Paulsen.

The Michigan Nurses Union and University of Michigan Health are in the middle of a contentious contract fight that led to a lawsuit against University of Michigan Health.

He says many think the fight is over wages, but the biggest issue in his opinion a workload with patient safety in mind. He and other nurses are demanding lower nurse-to-patient ratios.

“It is hard as a nurse to know that I don’t have time to do all the things I am trained to do,” said Paulsen.

It is a message nurses around the country are voicing.

University of Michigan Health says it makes staffing determinations with patient safety in mind earning recognition from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, U.S. News and World Report and others for rigorous standards in patient care.

It says its current contract offer to the nurses union provides a 6% raise in the first year and 5% raises in the following three years, a $4000 bonus, and a plan to eliminate mandatory overtime. It says it is bargaining in good faith and will vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit.