Nurse shortages at UPHS hospitals causing strain

Michigan Nurses Association calling on hospital officials to address issue

The Registered Nurse Staff Council at UP Health System - Marquette has claimed that despite other hospitals addressing staffing issues across the state, the hospital’s ownership group, LifePoint, has done nothing to address the issue within its Upper Peninsula hospitals despite being a corporation worth $8.8 billion. (Journal photo by Justin Marietti)

MARQUETTE — Businesses across the nation continue to struggle with staffing shortages in part caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many restaurants, coffee shops and other small businesses have often been forced to operate on limited days and/or hours, or even worse, close their doors for good.

The focal point of the problem often surrounds the aforementioned types of businesses, but another profession currently experiencing a staffing shortage is one of the most vital to the medical industry: nurses.

While the pandemic may have aided in the nurse shortage, the issue can be traced back far before COVID-19’s onset. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which cited the United States Registered Nurse Workforce Report Card and Shortage Forecast, a shortage of registered nurses is projected to spread across the U.S. between 2016 and 2030.

A recent report from the World Health Organization states that the world may be on track to experience a shortage of 5.7 million nurses by 2030.

Believe it or not, the issue exists right here in the Upper Peninsula, particularly in UP Health System hospitals, according to a Facebook post from the Registered Nurse Staff Council at UP Health System – Marquette.

“Our hospital is facing a crisis as more and more nurses, physicians and ancillary staff leave,” the post reads. “Immediate action needs to be taken across the UPHS system to address the crisis we’re facing.”

The outcry comes as a result of LifePoint Health, the private entity which owns the UPHS campuses, announcing that employees at UP Health System – Bell will be provided additional paid time off as “a token of gratitude” for “your hard work and dedication during what has been a challenging and unpredictable year,” a letter to Bell employees states.

The letter, sent by UPHS – Bell CEO Mitch Leckelt, CFO Teresa Perry, CNO June Hanson, Director of Physician Practices Michelle Palomaki and Director of Human Resources Tami Ketchem, was sent to employees just two days after nurses with the Michigan Nurses Association met with UPHS – Marquette CNO Christine Stryker and Market Human Resources Director Paula Swartout to “discuss recruitment and retention of our already hemorrhaging staff,” the Facebook post reads. MNA officials were told that there’s nothing hospital officials locally can do, and that their hands are tied to LifePoint’s headquarters in Brentwood, Tennessee.

The staff council at UPHS – Marquette claims that despite other hospitals addressing staffing issues across the state, LifePoint has done nothing to address the issue within its U.P. hospitals, despite being a corporation worth $8.8 billion.

“Across the state, other hospital leaders have recognized and acted upon the current mass exodus of employees by offering incentives such as a $10,000 bonus for picking up one additional shift a week for eight weeks at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, an $11,000 retention bonus for full-time and $5,500 retention bonus for part-time employees at Beaumont Hospital (Royal Oak), and $1,200 for one additional shift a week for six weeks plus time-and-a-half for overtime at Munson Hospital in Traverse City,” the post continued. “The only presented ‘solution’ to our staffing crisis is to hire travel nurses at up to $5,900 per week which totals somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,687,400. When the MNA nurses asked to incentivize shifts, we were responded to with a firm ‘NO’ by the CNO and market human resources director. UPHS – Marquette has no problem paying up to $5,900 per week for travelers who do not live in this community to work at our hospital and take that money out of our community, but have blatantly refused to incentivize shifts for our nurses right here in our own backyard.”

The staff council claims that UPHS – Marquette has received around $76 million from the federal CARES Act, and staff has seen zero of it.

“Our staff deserves better than this,” the post continues. “Our hospital has health care workers working 16-, sometimes even 20-hour shifts. We have been getting upwards of five texts a day asking us to come in. Our staffing levels our getting increasingly dangerous.”

While the outcry comes directly from staff at UPHS – Marquette, MNA officials say that the issue persists systemwide.

Danielle Hamlin, a registered nurse at UP Health System – Portage and president of the MNA for Portage, can allude to that statement.

“Right now, everybody is pretty frustrated,” Hamlin told The Mining Journal. “We’re feeling like we can’t give the proper care that we want to. We’re just short, very short-staffed. I’ve been a nurse for 21 years, and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it.

“We feel like they’re (LifePoint) not really listening to us. I guess that’s how the majority of us feel. We feel like they’re not doing anything to retain the staff we do have. We’ve lost a lot of nurses lately. I work in the (emergency room). We just feel like we’re not giving the care that we’d like to give. We’re not feeling safe … there’s more and more work and less staff. We’re holding (intensive care unit) patients over, there’s no beds, and we’re trying to take care of ICU patients along with (emergency department) patients.

“We’re just trying to retain the staff that we have presently. We’re working extra-long shifts. Many shifts have been working over 16 hours. It’s a domino effect. There’s longer wait times for people out in the waiting room, and that’s not how we want to provide care in the community. The community gets frustrated at us, but there’s nothing we can do. We only have so many rooms, so many nurses and just one provider.”

The Mining Journal reached out to UPHS for a response to the UPHS – Marquette staff council’s Facebook post.

“Delivering high-quality, safe and compassionate care for our patients is our top priority at UP Health System, and we strive each day to be an excellent workplace for our employees,” hospital officials said in a statement. “Like many health care systems across the country, we have continued to experience a surge of COVID-19 patients over the past few months. This reality — and the unrelenting pace, duration and uncertainty of a pandemic — is taking a significant toll on our physicians, nurses and other frontline workers.

“Staffing in the current environment continues to be a challenge for most hospitals — and we are not immune. We know that our mission of ‘Making Communities Healthier’ cannot be achieved without the teams of compassionate individuals who work here. We are exploring and implementing numerous strategies at the health system to address staffing challenges across all disciplines. Our clinical staff members are a vital part of our workforce, and we are working every day to attract, develop and retain high-performing talent at our hospitals. We are committed to working collaboratively with the Michigan Nurses Association as we address our recruiting and retention efforts in the U.P.

“We are so grateful for our entire team of health care heroes and how tirelessly they are working to provide excellent care to our community.”

The Facebook post finished by saying that more must be done to address staffing issues.

“We at UPHS – Marquette are very happy for those at UPHS – Bell and hope they enjoy their well-deserved paid time off,” the post reads. “Yet, instead of taking systemwide action, UPHS has rolled out a benefit program only to the hospital with the fewest employees. UPHS is run by Apollo, a private equity firm that is worth billions.

“Enough is enough. UPHS needs to address the retention crisis and address it in a systemwide way instead of cutting corners to save dimes. At the end of the day, as more and more staff leave, it is the patients who pay the price for their conduct.”

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal .net.


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