Health Care

Support staff at UVM Medical Center seek to unionize

John Brumsted
Dr. John Brumsted, center, the chief executive officer of UVM Medical Center, and his top executives listen to LNAs speak to them about why they should be able to unionize. Photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
BURLINGTON — Hundreds of support workers at the University of Vermont Medical Center say they’re being overworked, underpaid, and need a labor union to protect them.

The group of licensed nursing assistants and mental health technicians have been filling out union cards saying they want to join the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. That union already represents registered nurses who work in the hospital.

Under state law, if the group of LNAs, mental health technicians and related workers can get enough cards filled out, they can elect a collective bargaining representative.

However, because the LNAs and mental health technicians are legally considered part of a larger bargaining unit that includes other hospital support staff, they are asking the hospital to allow just the LNAs and mental health technicians to bargain collectively.

Daniel Doynow Sheena Maynard
Daniel Doynow, right, and Sheena Maynard, both LNAs at UVM Medical Center, want to join a union. Photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
To that end, dozens of LNAs attended the hospital’s board of trustees meeting on Thursday afternoon to tell the administration why they should be allowed to join the union. The group also brought allies, including members of Rights and Democracy and the Vermont Workers Center.

“The work of nurse’s aides and the work of frontline health care providers is so crucial,” said James Haslam, the executive director of Rights and Democracy. “I’ve been here (as a patient) on nights when there hasn’t been enough staff, and you’re wondering and you’re looking for answers.”

LNAs take a course after graduating from high school and get licensed through the state to take care of patient needs like bathing and changing bedpans. Mental health technicians, who have CPR and de-escalation training, sit with psychiatric patients, especially when patients are potentially suicidal. The LNAs say they’re often asked to fill in for mental health technicians.

The workers are seeking to have the hospital hire more LNAs and mental health technicians to reduce their workloads, to pay a base wage of $15 per hour, to pay incentives when they are called in at the last minute, and to set a maximum number of patients they should be responsible for every shift.

Sheena Maynard, an LNA, said the starting wage for an LNA is between $11 and $12 per hour, but the hospital is so understaffed that sometimes an LNA will be called in at the last minute to serve 20 or 30 patients at a time.

“The staffing crisis that we have experienced puts patients in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations and needs to be addressed immediately,” Maynard told the board.

She said when LNAs see call lights indicating that a patient needs help, they are supposed to respond within two minutes. Recently, she said those lights have been left on for up to 15 minutes.

“People are laying in their stool and their urine because we don’t have time to get there,” said Daniel Doynow, another LNA. “We don’t feel … like we’re really being respected.”

Doynow added: “We’re just looking for better working conditions. We want to be able to offer the best care possible. It’s hard to leave and see a coworker crying because she or he wasn’t able to take care of a patient.”

After the event, the hospital released the following statement: “We recognize the right of the LNA group to organize. We’ll work with them through the process governed by federal law.”

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  • Michael Connolly

    Excellent patient care begins with respected staff and staffing models that provide for the best care. Cheers to these LNA’s for their dedication and team work!

  • Traven Leyshon

    The hospital administration is being rather duplicitous when it says they’ll work “through the process governed by federal law.” This is another way of saying that they won’t recognize the 450 or so LNAs and mental health technicians right to form their union. So much for freedom of association! No, the hospital administration intends to prevent the LNAs and mental health technicians from being able to bargain for safer staffing levels and something approaching a livable wage. Ultimately its the patients who suffer from inadequate staffing made worse by high turnover of LNAs caused by the stress and low wages.

  • Meg Cline

    LNAS are the bedrock of patient care. This is so important! Great work by these folks advocating for us all.

  • Katie Parah

    I really do believe ware are under staffed. I had to come in on my day off to be a sitter cuz we needed 5 sitters that day. I worked 8 hours on my day off and ya the call lights stay on for a very long time cuz we can’t get them. I know if I was a patient I would want to get the best care possible but you don’t have the staff it makes it very hard to accomplish that. The people that suffer in all of this is the patient which is not right, they come to the hospital to get cared for not to sit there in there own stool and urine. The board of trustees should be thinking of the well being of the patient and by doing that they should hire more aides and pay us what we are worth which is more then 12 dollars an hour, we deserve a lot more.

  • Marie Parker

    LNAs are an underappreciated group from a hospital standpoint. LNAs tend to see patients more than the nurse. I hope UVMMC is able to come to common a ground with the LNAs and the mental health techs. And yes, they should be paid more.

  • James Rude

    The classification of bargaining groups is defined by the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board). It is actually pretty straightforward and the union would need to gain the support of the NLRB designated bargaining group by having interested people sign cards that, if enough collected, the cards are then submitted the the NLRB. Once the NLRB reviews the appropriateness of the cards and the membership of a proposed bargaining unit, the NLRB will hold an election so that all employees can vote. One of the strategies that unions use is to try to gain recognition without having to hold a vote. This is a very deceptive tactic because many employees may not want to join the union. Unlike the employer, unions can promise employees anything in order to garner support, while it is an unfair labor practice for the employer to so. So, for you employees who are entertaining joining this union. Do your homework and look at what this union as promised and what they have actually delivered.

    • The LNAs are organizing precisely because of what they have seen their unionized colleagues accomplish, what their colleagues have fought hard for and “delivered”. It is a deceptive technique to “third party” unions as “the union” or “this union” as you say – some group that’s not in the room or at the bedside, when in fact, our union is us. It is us nurses, respiratory therapists, and more, on the front lines every day.

      • Kathi Echelberger

        So many of the LNA’s and MHT’s HAVE Signed union cards. And when the administration was 1st approached, with over 1000 signatures of clinical staff supporting the unionization for LNA’s, administration REFUSED to take or even look at the petition. The hospital does not want us to organize as yes it will cost them money in better pay for a very deserved group of employees. The role of the LNA has changed greatly over the years and now gets just as much burn out as RN’s do. You see thanks to insurance companies the LNA now does the job of a RN (less medication), the RN now does the job of the MD (less surgery) and the MD’s push the paperwork needed to get paid back the pitiful 1-20% reimbursement from the insurance companies.

  • Sharon Schroeder

    I am very proud to work with a dedicated group of LNAs at the UVM Med Center. Our patients and families thrive when we have the staffing and the ability to give high quality care and attention to their needs. Please support these professionals as they fight for appropriate staffing ratios and fair pay.

  • Jackie shover

    I’ve been an lna at uvm for almost 10 years and I really think that we are over worked and underpaid. I love my job but we really need To feel like we are supported and have safer staffing assignments. We are suppose to be here for the patients but if we have 20 patients to take care of then how can we be there for the patients.

  • Kathi Echelberger

    LNa’s deserve the right to be a bargaining unit and to be able to set up own by-laws and be our own clinical group with in the hospital. At 450 and growing we are one of THE most needed and sometimes underappreciated staff. We are the ones many times holding your loved ones hands as they pass from this world, or literally hold the hand or someone on suicide watch and taking the verbal abuse from them. Or helping patients keep their dignity after surgery when they have accidents and are mortified and are just plain scared. We tell them it’s all right and no big deal. Yet when the hospital goes in to crisis mode for all the 1-1 sitter needs and call in all staff for help, yet don’t offer better pay for those situation, what is the incentive to come in on your day off. Yes we want to help out our units, but also prevent burn out. I aid to 10-20 patients- depending on the level of acuity is unacceptable. Ask yourself this- would you do it for $13 an hour? Probably not- why should we?

  • Kathi Echelberger

    Now Admin’s answer to trying to help out the Instead of paying people OT when they call in looking for hours they will spend hospital dollars doing this as well as blocking the right for LNA’s to organize. Something we have asked them NOT to do.
    Constant 1:1 Patient Observation – The number of patients requiring constant observation continues to be a challenge. On Monday we had over 30 constant observation needs and reached 40 last week. We know such a large number observer needs has been challenging for many nursing units. We thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to creating a safe patient care environment.
    An interdisciplinary team (including RNs, LNAs, MHT, etc) is currently working on a new model for covering 1:1s. One key objective is to minimize the times that LNA’s and MHT’s are being pulled from patient care assignments to the observer role We are in the final stages of partnering with an outside vendor that would supply staff. To begin 01/2017