Q&A: MNA president discusses understaffing and the need for help from MHA and state

Jamie Brown, RN, is the president of the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) and critical care nurse at Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo. 

In this Q&A, Brown discusses Michigan nurses’ lack of adequate staffing, lack of help from hospitals, and the Safe Patient Care Act. 

 

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Patrick Jones: What has been the Delta variant’s impact on nurses in Michigan? What have you been hearing about their working conditions, staffing challenges, and morale?

Jamie Brown: “Nurses have now been dealing with the pandemic going on almost two years. As a critical care nurse who has taken care of COVID patients from the beginning, I can say firsthand that many nurses are exhausted and traumatized. Working conditions, already difficult in Michigan hospitals before the pandemic, have deteriorated. Hospitals were already putting the bottom line above all else by running with short [registered nurse (RN)] staffing, and that’s only gotten worse. Hospitals are stretching nurses too thin, often putting patients’ safety at risk. Many nurses are being forced to work 16-hour-shifts. There is not a nurse shortage; there is a shortage of nurses willing to compromise patient care and work under the conditions hospitals have become comfortable with over the years.”

PJ: Has the Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA) and the state done enough to help nurses battle this COVID wave? Are they having conversations with MNA to better their practices and care for nurses?

JB: “The hospital industry has largely failed nurses throughout this pandemic. Whether it was not enough proper [personal protective equipment (PPE)], not enough COVID-19 testing, or not enough staffing, nurses have been left on their own. Hospitals have listened too much to administrators and not enough to the frontline workers who sacrificed so much to take care of our communities.”  

PJ: What has MHA and the state done to help nurses? What should they be doing?

JB: “The hospital industry needs to end its practice of constantly understaffing RNs. This intentional strategy to save money is nothing new, but the pandemic has brought it into the light. We all know that safe staffing saves lives. Hospitals also need to be investing in their nurses rather than paying temporary workers many times as much, giving out executive bonuses, and acting as if there is nothing they can do to retain their nurses. Nurses need safe staffing, retention support, and respect.”

PJ: How do Michigan’s hospitals treat their nursing workforce?

JB: “Nurses don’t have the support we need and deserve. Again, the pandemic brought these issues more into light, but it’s nothing new. Constant understaffing and forced overtime are exhausting nurses and driving them out of the profession. Nurses don’t want free pens and pizza parties – we want the tools to do our jobs safely and know that we’ve given the very best care we can, each and every time. That’s what we want and need from our employers.”

PJ: Is the legislature taking the Safe Patient Care Act seriously? What progress has there been on that legislation?

JB: “The Safe Patient Care Act is bipartisan legislation that would ensure safe RN staffing levels and limit forced overtime for nurses. The fact that the overall package has nearly five dozen cosponsors speaks to the momentum and support – the time has come to give nurses what we need to provide safe, quality care to each and every patient. Unfortunately, the hospital industry chooses to spend its considerable resources on fighting this legislation.”

PJ: What gives you hope for the future?

JB: “Nurses are rising up, coming together, and making our voices heard. More nurses and health professionals are seeing the value of forming a union – three new groups of nurses and health professionals have organized with MNA, and our members are loud and strong when it comes to standing up for our patients. The public is seeing that the usual way of doing healthcare in this country is not working, and it’s the nurses who are leading all of us to a better way.”

This interview was edited for clarity and length. State of Reform received comments from Brown via written statement.