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Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center cuts nursing staff raising concerns of patient safety

About two dozen Wexner Medical Center nurses gathered in the lobby of Graves Hall, a College of Medicine building, Wednesday morning to voice their opposition to recent staff cuts they say put patients’ safety at risk. Credit: Matt Dorsey | Engagement Editor

About two dozen Wexner Medical Center nurses gathered in the lobby of Graves Hall, a College of Medicine building, Wednesday morning to voice their opposition to recent staff cuts they say put patients’ safety at risk.

The medical center’s progressive care unit — one step down from the intensive care units, which treat the most at-risk patients — had five nurses cut from its nursing staff of 31 in August.

The cuts reduced the daytime nursing staff from 16 to 13 and the nighttime staff from 15 to 13 in the unit, nurses said.

No one was fired or laid off, said stat nurse Rick Lucas, who assists in various units as needed, and is a member of the nurses’ organization board. Instead, travel nurses who move from location to location nationwide had contracts expire and not be renewed while other nurses on the unit were called off of shifts or asked to move around between units, he said.

The staff reduction was announced at a meeting in mid-August and increased the maximum ratio of patients to nurses in the unit from 3-to-1 to 3.5-to-1. About half the staff now takes on four patients, a responsibility many of the nurses said spreads staff too thin.

The timing of the nursing-staff cuts rubbed some the wrong way, given the medical center announced the same month it had set a new revenue record for the 2017 fiscal year, said Jessie Frymyer, president of The Ohio State University Nurses Organization, the local branch of the Ohio Nurses Association.

We have to be able to change [how many patients a nurse is caring for] when it’s necessary to what the patient needs. And we’re dealing with the human condition. It’s a variable thing. It changes. It would be nice if it fit in a little box. It doesn’t. — Suzy Linville, Wexner Medical Center nurse.

Citing a clause in the collective-bargaining agreement the nurses have with the medical center, the unit — called 8 Rhodes PCU — filed a grievance against the medical center on Aug. 27, Frymyer said.

Several nurses made clear their objections to human-resource managers from both the university and the medical center in a closed-to-the-public grievance hearing as part of the weekly meetings between the two parties. Members of 8 Rhodes PCU, as well as nurses from other units, planned the Wednesday gathering as a show of support for the grievance.

“We really want this process to work,” Frymyer said. “This is how this is supposed to be. We bring an issue forward, HR, nursing leadership looks into it, and then adjusts, hopefully.”

The purpose of the PCU unit is to prevent a need for escalation to an intensive care unit, said Helen Barbis, a registered nurse on the unit.

“I feel like we’re pulled in so many directions,” Barbis said. “Now we’re not adequately able to have that closer eye that we’re supposed to have when we’re PCU.”

A lower patient-nurse ratio allows for nurses to give closer care, something that could prevent sudden emergency situations, said Tina Bezouska, another nurse in the unit.

She recalled a recent event involving two patients “coding” — having a sudden emergency such as stopped breathing or heart failure — within one shift. Bezouska said the incident might have been prevented with a lower patient-to-nurse ratio.

She said the patients had to get intubated, meaning a breathing tube was inserted in their throats, and go to the ICU.

“No extra help,” said Lucas, finishing her sentence.

Suzy Linville, a nurse in the surgical ICU, one of three ICUs at the medical center, said her unit sometimes takes on patients who should be in the less-intensive PCU when the latter is overbooked.

She said her own unit often has to decline overflow patients because they themselves are understaffed, causing the unit to lose the flexibility necessary to meet patient needs.

“We have to be able to change that when it’s necessary to what the patient needs,” she said. “And we’re dealing with the human condition. It’s a variable thing. It changes. It would be nice if it fit in a little box. It doesn’t.”

The medical center said it does not sacrifice quality care in favor of meeting a budget, according to a statement made in response to the nurses’ grievance.

“Patient safety is always our No.1 priority,” the statement said. “The Wexner Medical Center is widely recognized as one of the best health systems in the nation for quality of care. Our operational models are under continuous review, and we staff to the type of patient being treated, not to budget.

“We value and take seriously the feedback from our bedside staff on how we can best meet the needs of our patients. We are dedicated to transparency in working with our nursing staff and organizational leadership to resolve all issues, and will remain actively engaged.”

For some nurses, the change affected them in a personal way.

“To have something like this prevent us from being the nurses that we want to be and provide the care that we want to provide, it’s just really frustrating,” said Barbis. “I strive to provide the level of care that I would want my grandmother to receive or my parents or myself to receive and it’s becoming increasingly more challenging to meet my own standards.”

5 comments

  1. Frustrated Staff Member

    The university, including the medical center, is ONLY concerned with the bottom line. The med center announces record revenue yet cuts staffing. The university receives $2 plus billion in cash in May from “partnering” with a private corporation for its utilities, yet the yearly aggregate salary increase still was only 2%. This doesn’t even come close to covering the increase in parking costs, inflation, increases in co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles added to the health benefits. Sadly, the university I once loved as both an alum and staff member has now become just another greedy corporation only interested in accumulating wealth.

  2. Disgusting. Is it disgusting enough for people to force the resignations of the people that are responsible for this ?

  3. As an employee at OSUMC Wex Med (I’m a nurse but not union), this article is very inflammatory and not 100% accurate. As an employee in a previous union environment, my union looked out for me AND looked out for the organization, because they realized that the solutions that mattered were ones where EVERYONE walked away with a better outcome (not just the union).
    Many of the employees I interact with do not respect the union at all and feel they would be better off without them. I’m hearing that this protest yesterday was a publicity stunt because a small minority of nurses have expressed concerns to the union that they aren’t doing enough for them. While this issue is a valid one to discuss with the hospital, this approach will most definitely impact our ability to care for patients. So now the hospital that I have worked at for over 10 years has had their reputation damaged, patients will be afraid to come here which will cause income to go down, potential job seekers will no longer want to work here and staffing levels will suffer more because of it. Maybe we should think these things through before we call the TV cameras next time?

  4. So Columbus! Especially in these Republican Neoconservative, corporate privatization times when people-workers are treated as non-contributing, unproductive chattel instead of customer-centric purveyors of vital services with instrumental thinking and decision-making skills which enhance organization readiness, effectiveness, and performance standards. In such a culture, the worst of actions is demonstrative dissent; protest against unfairness, inequality, abject worker’s rights.
    In light of the corporate privatization at OSU, one must surmise that today’s OSUMC Wex Med employees union contract and negotiation rights agreement IS a neutered version of any preexisting
    public employees union protections. “Publicity stunts” are the masterful manufacturing of E. Gordon Gee, Ph.D., his cronies and sycophants, corporate and plutocratic nameplate-crazed “benefactors”(sic)
    and all too-many unthinking bandwagon ditto-heads.

  5. Former Employee of 16 years
    I feel OSU will sacrifice patient care over the revenue. It is a large business! When I worked there they did not care about safe patient care as we were being Mandated every day you went to work do to lack of staffing. Since mandation has decreased d/t a new contract, this is just another way for OSU to not staff properly to safely care for there patient population. If they can get away with having less staff do more no matter what the risk to loved ones lives . They will take there chances. It is very hard to up hold nursing standards of care in that type of environment. If the nurses do not like it OSU will just fire them and hire new grads for half the price,with little experience for caring for the serous lay ill patients.Adter all they do have a school of nursing! Good luck to my fellow colleagues! God Bless there patients and families who put there trust in this type of health care service or should I say lack of service! Go Bucks yum not really

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