Editor's note: This commentary is by the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals nurse bargaining committee, the union that represents nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center. The names of members are below this commentary.
[T]his open letter to the community explains the position of the bargaining committee of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, the union elected to represent the 1,800+ nurses working at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Recently, 94 percent of voting nurses approved a strike, if needed, to secure the contract necessary to provide the quality care the community deserves. We have not called for a strike yet, and we remain committed to working with the management team to find solutions to UVMMC’s safety, staffing, recruitment and retention issues, but we may be forced to exercise this option as a last resort if the management team continues to ignore the very real concerns and problems we face.
• We do not have the nursing or support staffing levels we need to provide safe care. The UVMMC network has expanded, bringing the sickest of over 1 million patients to our hospital from upper New York and throughout Vermont because UVMMC is Vermont’s only Level 1 Trauma Center. We are happy to provide the care, but we need staffing plans that account for the increased seriousness of patients’ illnesses and injuries, the increased patient volumes, and the additional staff needed to provide excellent care.
• Support staff wages are too low for us to recruit and retain the people we need. For example, patient support and transport staff turnover is 40 percent. We have been asking the hospital to commit to paying everyone who works at UVMMC at least $15 per hour. UVMMC is a $1.2 billion/year company, the flagship hospital of a nearly $2 billion/year health network. The hospital and network generate enough surplus to spend hundreds of millions annually on capital expenses, acquisition of businesses and property, and increasing reserves. The hospital’s net patient revenues exceeded forecast by nearly $40 million in FY 2017.
• Studies and experience show a correlation between poor staffing levels and higher rates of patient infections, bedsores, medication errors, slips and falls, and worker injury.
• UVMMC does not have the nationally competitive nursing compensation plan needed to recruit and retain adequate numbers of qualified nurses:
- Baby boomers are getting older with increasing health needs.
- The U.S. higher education system has produced too few new nurses.
- Older nurses who delayed retirement through the great recession are leaving the workforce.
- The greatest numbers of new nurses are millennials who, through no fault of their own, are more likely than past generations to have crushing education debt, and to lack the ability to afford a mortgage or enjoy other incentives to stay in one place and deepen their relationship to a community.
- Other hospital systems are offering incentives for nurses to join them: sign-on bonuses of up to $25,000, free college tuition for nurses and all their children, and free apartments near hospitals so they don’t have long commutes. UVMMC is not competitive locally or nationally.
• Vermont nursing pay ranks 47th in the nation. For example, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are woefully behind the national median for wages, especially new APRNs, who are compensated at about the 10th percentile. APRNs are wildly overworked and APRN positions go unfilled for months or years, jeopardizing patient care.
We call on hospital executives to stop withholding relevant information, stop the unfair labor practices that intimidate or chill RNs for speaking out about pay and patient safety, stop ignoring our serious concerns about safe patient practices, recruitment and retention, and quickly agree to a contract that allows UVMMC to remain competitive, and that allows nurses and staff to provide the care that we want to give and that our community deserves!
We ask that you think about the critical moments between life and death, and ask yourself how understaffed, unsupported, overwhelmed, distracted and tired you want your nurse to be? Please support our campaign for a fair and safe contract by voicing your support for the nurses to UVMMC network CEO [email protected], UVMMC CEO/COO [email protected], CNO [email protected] or any member of the UVMMC board.
VFNHP Nurse Bargaining Committee: Tristin Adie, Laurie Aunchman, Nancy Bissonette, Phillip Bowler, Dawn Bray-Riley, Alain Brunet, Maria Cochrane, Valerie Conte, Philip Corriveau, Stephanie Davies, Clare Doyle, Kelly Dunford, Marybeth Early, Tracy Fornasier, Rachel Foxx, Adam Gil, Sarah Girome, Jonathan Glaude, Caitlin Gray, Kate Janson, Julie Kent, Jessica A. Kilpatrick, Kim Kuhlmeier, Amy Lang, Samira Lawson, Stephanie Lusk, Daniel Luttrell, Julie MacMillan, Kathleen McCarthy, Andrea Messier, Alison Morrow, Leigh Nelson, Andrea Parker, Sherrie Peterson, Noah Ponzio, Angela Pratt, Cristina Price, Sierra Schultz, Tiffany Short, Karin Stafford, Caroline Tassey, Debra Toof, Kristin Viens, Molly Wallner, Anna Westervelt, Donna Zarro, Diane Zeller
Correction: An error in bullet point 2 has been corrected. It is patient support and transport staff that has a 40 percent turnover, not licensed nurse's aides.