ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- The last two years were extremely stressful for health care workers. However, some Minnesota nurses say the problems in the industry existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Minnesota Nurses Association says 748 nurses left a union nursing job in the last two years and did not take a new one.
On Thursday, a group of nurses shared their stories at the Minnesota State Capitol. For many, they decided to walk away.
Amy Forkner, who worked as a nurse for 30 years, says she "escaped" the profession when she retired early in December. She said her last shifts were chaotic, and she often left work only to cry on the way home.
Web Extra: Nurses Share Stories In Roundtable Discussion
A new report released by the Minnesota Nurses Association showed that the top reasons why union nurses left the their jobs in the last two years came down to poor management and staffing.
"Staffing and retention were issues long before the pandemic started," said union nurse Rebekah Nelson. "But the pandemic really laid bare all of these issues."
Among these issues, the nurses say, is a lack of support.
One former nurse in the roundtable discussion, a single mom, said she asked if she could work different hours to better take care of her young children, who were going back and forth with distance learning. She was told no.
"I was speechless at the time," she said. "They talked about how badly they needed nurses, they were hiring traveling nurses, then I was told...we're not going to make that happen for you."
The Minnesota Nurses Association wants state lawmakers to pass the Keeping Nurses at the Bedside Act, which would establish local committees of nurses and management to help set staffing levels. The legislation would also create more funds for loan forgiveness and mental health support for nurses.
In the new report, some 63% of union nurses reported considering leaving their job or the profession all together.
The Minnesota Hospital Association said the nurses' union represents and surveys less than 20% of all nurses in Minnesota. The MHA told WCCO in part:
We ask legislators to continue working on the immediate workforce issues we are facing --- growing interest in health care careers, expanding the pipeline of workers in training, and helping us keep health care professionals in Minnesota with an enhanced loan forgiveness program and immediately passing meaningful frontline worker pay for health care workers.
An MNA spokesperson says the union "represents 80% of all hospital, bedside nurses working in Minnesota. The additional nurses counted in the MHA figure might include retired nurses who still have their license, those who hold a license but do not work in nursing, etc."
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