OLEAN — More than 700 complaints of “understaffing” in 2019 and 2020 have been filed by nurses employed by Olean General Hospital.
The New York State Nurses Association said Wednesday that 753 complaints were filed by nurses and provided to hospital management. A total of 2,820 nurse signatures appear on the complaints filed with management because multiple signatures are allowed on each complaint, the association said.
Olean General administrators responded by stating “the pandemic staffing was not optimum at all times,” while increased precautions and staff illness contributed to the “staffing challenges.”
The press release from the nurses association stated that the number of complaints from Olean nurses are included in the 26,219 total complaints of understaffing statewide, signed by 97,715 nurses, in the last two years.
“The complaints are called ‘protests of assignment’ (POA) and are formal complaints given to hospital management,” the association said. “The large number of complaints is further proof that Albany lawmakers must pass the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act to ensure that all patients across the state get the care they need and deserve.”
Nurse descriptions that accompanied the POAs “tell a troubling story of what is really going on inside New York hospitals,” the association said.
One nurse wrote: “Units 3A/3B combined. All nurses at 7-8 patients each; charge nurse fully assigned with 7-8 patients. Several confused patients/High Fall Risk/alarms. Several tube feeds. Several wounds/dressing changes.”
Another nurse wrote: “One nurse, no ancillary staff present. 8 well babies, 1 babe in NICU on oxygen and IV, one well babe with iv in place, many admissions evening through night with only one nurse present 7pm-7am.”
Kathleen Neeson, a registered nurse in the Cardiac Unit at OGH wrote: “Understaffing truly affects the patients and the nurses at Olean General Hospital. There have been times when I had to care for 14 patients at once — far exceeding what was contractually agreed to.
“We’re constantly jumping from patient to patient and there are times when we have little time to properly check vitals, respond to emergencies, or even use the bathroom.”
The nurses association stated: “These types of stories are coming in everyday” from throughout New York.
“The COVID pandemic underscores that safe staffing saves lives in hospitals and nursing homes,” the association statement continued. “A recent report by Attorney General Letitia James is the latest evidence that connects safe staffing and positive patient outcomes. The central finding and core recommendation of the AG’s report are that poor staffing was a major factor in the high death toll in nursing homes, and that New York must enact enforceable, minimum staffing standards, or hours of care per resident.”
Dennis McCarthy, spokesperson for Upper Allegheny Health System, a parent company for OGH and Bradford (Pa.) Regional Medical Center, responded to the complaints.
“Our nurses are among our most valuable assets,” he said. “This past year they and other staff answered the call in battling COVID-19 during a most extraordinary and challenging time. They are true heroes.”
McCarthy said, due to the pandemic, “staffing was not optimum at all times. Increased precautions and staff illness contributed to the staffing challenges. That said, the hospital believes that patients were safe at all times.”
McCarthy said Upper Allegheny’s administration believes the union’s press release is part of an overall annual campaign strategy to push for mandatory staffing legislation in New York state, which has been part of the union’s agenda for more than a decade.
He said the legislation would mandate strict nurse-to-patient ratios at every hospital and nursing home across New York and that the “draconian proposal” would limit access to care, threaten patient safety and cost New York’s health care system more than $3 billion per year.
Moreover, he insisted, it would not improve the quality care.
“In addition, the pool of available nurses continues to be low,” he said.
Citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, he said there are 4 million nurses in the U.S., about 60% working in hospitals. By 2022, the nation will need 1.1 million new RNs to avoid a nursing shortage. In an August 2020 study, the New York State Department of Health said the state would need an additional 24,000 nurses to meet the minimum requirements under the proposed staffing mandate legislation.
“Western New York would need an additional 1,300 nurses,” McCarthy said. “In effect, the legislation would mandate hiring nurses who do not exist.”
Rigid government mandated nurse staffing ratios replace the judgement of local nurses and doctors with strict, arbitrary state standards, McCarthy continued. He noted every patient is different, and every nurse has unique expertise and experience.
“Flexibility is essential in responding to diverse patient and resident needs that can evolve and change quickly,” he said. “Issues involving staffing should be addressed between hospitals and the respective unions at their facilities, rather than implementing a one-size-fits-all policy. We do not believe there is any credible evidence that mandatory staffing improves patient safety.”
The spokesperson said UAHS place patient safety as its No. 1 priority and OGH continues to “aggressively recruit nurses and other vital health care professionals.”
UAHS officials had announced in January that Bradford Regional and OGH are restructuring. The measure will include the relocation of all acute care and surgical services from Bradford to OGH, and the reduction of Bradford Regional’s inpatient capacity to 10 medical beds — down from 107.
The changes were described as a “strategic initiative to ensure sustainable, long-term healthcare for its expansive, two-state service community.”
The closure of the acute care and surgical services in Bradford has been planned for April 1.
(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)