Nurse walk and hold picket signs.

Nurses concerned about staffing, safety

It wasn't a strike demanding more money, nor was it a boisterous protest. But nurses at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center say that the informational picket they staged last Thursday was beneficial."We have had a lot of positive support," said Valerie Buysse of Minneota, an RN at Avera Marshall for 25 years. "If anything becomes of this or not, it has given us a chance to reorganize and has strengthened our union."
It was estimated that nearly 100 nurses, family members, friends, community members, former patients, and even one Avera surgeon, took part in the three-hour informational picket.
The picket late Thursday afternoon was staged at the corner of East College Drive and Bruce Street in Marshall.
Nurses carried signs that read such slogans as: "Nurses Outside; Trouble Inside", "Be fair to those who care", "If the nurses are out here, there's trouble in there", and "Honk if you support nurses".
The latter sign produced a lot of drivers laying on their horns to show their support while the picketing nurses cheered in unison.
"Everything was positive," said Malinda Searcy, a native of Marshall who is an RN who works in the Occupational Medicine. "We had a lot of passerby's honk with thumbs up. People were really involved and want what we want; the best care possible."
The concerns of the nurses centers on staffing levels and the safety of their patients. The biggest area of concern is Urgent Care, in which patients can go for medical assistance without an appointment.
Nurses say they are required to work in urgent care without being properly trained. They insist that Avera's offering of eight hours of training to work in Urgent Care is not sufficient and also not fair to the patients.
"Unsafe staffing and lack of training does two things," said Searcy; "it jeopardizes the nurses' ability to provide exceptional care, but the biggest impact lies with the risk it imposes onto the patient."
Searcy also feels that rotating by RNs through Urgent Care it increases "that risk to our patients increases tenfold".
"When you are talking about rotating a nurse, who for instance, has only known orthopedics experience through Urgent Care once every six to eight weeks, that imposes a risk," she added. "With the state of healthcare, people can't afford to take questionable emergent things to the ER.
"They are coming to Urgent Care with chest pain, stroke-like symptoms, several allergic reactions, severe shortness of breath, and all sorts of other illnesses. That scenario with healthcare providers who never worked Urgent Care before, and don't know the process exactly, sets up a potentially unsafe situation."
Nurses disagree with a statement released by Avera CEO Mary Maertens that the nurse's concerns have not been brought up to administration.
In a statement that was released to the public on Wednesday, Avera Marshall Regional President and CEO Mary Maertens claimed employees had not brought the aforementioned concerns to the administration.
Her statement read:
“We respect our MNA-represented employees’ right to speak out on issues of importance to them. While we disagree with their position in this instance, we will never lose sight of the larger reality that our nurses are skilled professionals who are an essential part of the care we provide. If they — or any employee — have any safety concerns, we hope they’ll bring them forward to be addressed; to this point, they have not done so. Our patients and visitors can be assured that this informational picket will have no impact on the high-quality care we provide.”
Nurses disagree with Maertens' claim in the press release that administration has not heard their grievances.
"We categorically deny Mary's statement that we haven't voiced our concerns," said Buysse, who works in the Medical Surgical unit at Avera Marshall. "We disagree 100 percent that we have not been contacting her.
"Administration was notified on numerous occasions; at least eight meetings in the past six months between staff and administration, besides many, many reports made to immediate supervisors and unsafe staffing reports submitted to MNA after reporting concerns to supervisors."
Nurses are also not clear on why there has been reduced staffing and not enough training.
"We understand that administration needed to better align the merging of both clinics," Searcy said. "We get the business aspect. But we aren't 'herding cattle' through the clinic doors. These are human beings who deserve safe, exceptional care from the nurses."
Nurses are also questioning Avera administration telling that they have been working on the current restructure program for several weeks, yet nurses were not included in the process.
"From my understanding, not one nurse was asked what they thought of the restructure," Searcy said. "It's unfortunate. The nurses as a whole would have gladly worked together for a bigger, better  to align ourselves to give that exceptional care we strive for every day."
So the nurses decided enough was enough and decided on the informational picket as a way to express their feelings and inform the public of what they feel are unsafe conditions.
The nurses met the day before the picket for a sign-making party.
Since the informational picket, nurses and/or the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) that represent them, have heard no responses from administration.
"We're not rolling over yet," Buysse insisted. "Our union felt the only way to try to get administration's attention, as well as the public's, was to picket. This decision was not made lightly. Patient safety was the driving force."
"It's unfortunate and we fear every day for our patients safety," Searcy said. "Not a good way to spend your day in a profession you so love."

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