Registered nurses at HCA’s Mission Hospital in Asheville held a news conference and protest on August 5, 2020, alerting the public to ongoing concerns over inadequate staffing and other patient safety measures in the hospital amidst the ongoing surge of the coronavirus pandemic.
Inadequate staffing has resulted in an increased risk of COVID-19 exposures, incidents of workplace violence, and unacceptable delays in care, such as timely transfer of patients for diagnostic procedures in the Trauma Care Unit, according to nurses overwhelmed by the pandemic.
In July local RNs delivered a letter to top executives at Mission, warning about rapidly deteriorating conditions as the pandemic was exploding across the state, but administrators have failed to respond, say the nurses.
Recent incidents cited by the Mission RNs include:
Emergency Department patients have been left in hallways despite having multiple open rooms, because there were not enough RNs to provide care.
Trauma Care Unit (TCU) staffing has been inadequate, sometimes down by three RNs, which puts everyone at risk. In one example two TCU RNs came down with fevers and one was vomiting after exposure.
TCU nurses have been required to work on the floor without Mission providing testing, and continue to work after a confirmed exposure if they are asymptomatic. Nurses opting to get tested outside the hospital are mandated to self-quarantine without pay until the results come back.
A Neurology unit RN, exposed to COVID-19, was told not to inform other staff but to report to work as long as not showing symptoms.
Elsewhere in the hospital, an agitated patient pulled down an RN by her hair, causing her a head injury, and in another incident a social worker was grabbed from behind and dragged across the floor.
Concerns voiced, response muted
“Conditions at the hospital are such that patient care is suffering,” the letter said. “Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated all existing issues and we are on the verge of a local healthcare crisis if steps to alleviate the situation are not immediately taken.”
“Yet since we urged HCA and the hospital to act to protect public safety for patients and those of us who have been putting our lives on the line daily for our patients and our community, virtually nothing has changed. Instead we’ve experienced abandonment by those running this hospital,” said Mission RN Mickey Davis this week.
“This ongoing COVID-19 surge has only increased the risk of exposure, and infection is growing as nurses are not provided the backup of additional staff to protect ourselves and our patients. This has become an emergency which is not acceptable,” said Sue Fischer, another Mission RN.
Union vote scheduled
Mission RNs are seeking to form a union to strengthen their collective voice to address unsafe conditions, including short staffing. HCA has fought unionization in its scores of hospitals across the country, and the company has strongly opposed the formation of a local nurse’s union. But in early March of this year Mission RNs filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to set a date for a secret ballot union vote; the NLRB announced in early August, five months later, that ballots would be sent to nurses August 18 and the tally would take place on Sept 18.
For-profit hospital chain earns vast sums
Mission began as a nonprofit, state-chartered hospital more than a century ago, but in 2018 it and six other WNC healthcare facilities were purchased and turned into a profit-making enterprise by the Tennessee-based HCA Corporation. The wealthiest hospital system in the United States, HCA showed $1.1 billion in profits in just the 2nd quarter (April-June) of 2020, but also received $1.4 billion in tax funds from the CARES pandemic Act. Since the new fiscal year began July 1, it has received an additional $300 million.