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VA Nurses Sound Alarm On Hospital Changes Made Without Input From Union

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - The union representing nurses at Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center is raising alarms over recent moves by hospital management. On Friday evening, around two dozen nurses gathered for a rally outside the hospital.

According to a release by National Nurses United, the gathering was in response to the hospital changing nursing schedules without bargaining with the nurses, as well as citing a nurse who hung flyers in employee-only areas of the hospital.

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"They said that we're 26% of the backbone of this hospital, but they don't treat us like 26%," said Alyssa Tousignant, a nurse at the facility. "They treat us like 2%."

Throughout the rally, nurses held up signs saying, "nurses and veterans stand together" and urged drivers to honk in support of their cause.

"They need to listen to us, and they need to work with us," said Beki Chandler. "We want what's best for our veterans."

Among the nurses' concerns is patient safety. They say short staffing and a recent shift change, which, according to the union was decided without member input, will stretch nurses thinner. Tousignant tells CBS4 the move could increase the staff-to-patient ratio from 4 to 1 to up to 7 to 1.

"What that means is I can no longer bathe my patients, I don't have time for that," Tousignant said. "I can no longer do oral care; I can no longer make sure that my patients are ambulated."

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Chandler, a nurse and Iraq War veteran, fears such a move would also drive away staff.

"We will lose nurses that are going to be forced between their personal lives and their careers, and they are dedicated to work here and be here with these veterans and our management is not listening to us," Chandler said.

Michael Kilmer, the Director of the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, confirmed to CBS4 that a shift change would occur beginning Dec. 6. He explained the hospital would move to a two-shift model, which both aligns with the community standard and will improve patient care, he believes.

"We have so many shift changes. The inpatient units aren't ready to receive those patients, and that causes a patient backup and potentially patient harm by delaying care," Kilmer said.

"They don't cry with the veterans. They don't hold their hands when they take their last breath," Chandler said. "They don't understand what we do, and they are making decisions that will affect what we do."

While nurses at the rally spoke about staffing shortages, Kilmer told CBS4 staffing ratios did not reflect that, and currently exceed private sector standards. The hospital, like many others, is currently in the process of surge planning.

This all comes at a time when hospital staff across the state is stretched thin because of COVID-19. Thirty-six percent of facilities are expecting staff shortages within next week.

According to state data, more than 1,500 people are hospitalized in Colorado and 47% of critical care ventilators are in use.

"I think the preplanning is causing some additional anxiety for our staff because we are asking ourselves the 'what if,'" He said.

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According to National Nurses United, hospital staff members are also concerned about what they describe as "overt intimidation tactics" by management. Tousignant said she has seen colleagues be pulled away from their patients and cited or embarrassed by managers for speaking up about issues or posting things.

"I expect I'll get one next week," she said.

Kilmer told CBS4 he has heard those same concerns and the hospital does not tolerate intimidation or a hostile work environment.

"It's not something we will tolerate, and I'll take immediate action to correct if that does occur," he said.

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