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'We're Losing The War': As Pandemic Surges, Healthcare Workers Call On Top Management To Make A Change

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association are calling on hospital leaders and elected officials to make changes they say are necessary to improve staffing and overall morale.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, representatives from several healthcare providers, including North Memorial Hospital, Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Children's Minnesota, M Health Fairview and more, put the blame for staffing issues on upper management.

"For years, our hospital CEOs hired and scheduled nurses at low levels to cut costs, putting revenues ahead of care at the bedside," said MNA President Mary Turner, who works at North Memorial Health hospital in Robbinsdale. "We need the public, hospital executives and elected officials to hear us when we say that the nurses are at a breaking point."

Speakers at Monday's press conference say issues with staffing date back further than the pandemic, but were amplified when COVID-19 hit.

"COVID may have exacerbated this situation, but the health systems leaders created it. They burned out a lot of staff before the first coronavirus case hit our doorstep in Minnesota," said Kelley Anaas, an ICU nurse at Abbott Northwestern. "We can't keep showing up like this when they aren't showing up for us."

In some instances, nurses say they're made to take care of three or four patients in situations where they should be only placed with one. In others, they say they've been made to provide a doctor's note in order to use earned benefits while calling in sick.

"Now these nurses have to decide if they're going to continue to stress and add more stress to the already overburdened healthcare system by getting a doctor's appointment so we can get paid, or by going to work if we're not feeling good and possibly making someone else ill," said Lynnetta Muehlhauser, who also works as a registered nurse at Abbott Northwestern.

At Children's Minnesota, staff members say they've filed 2,800 complaint forms over unsafe staffing conditions in 2021 alone -- more than three times the amount seen in year's past.

"Twin Cities CEOs, they have trimmed, sliced and diced staffing and services to prioritize their revenues, which directly impacts patient and family care," said Thisha Ochsner, a registered nurse with Children's Minnesota. "We are stuck in a dysfunctional system that only perpetuates burnout and fatigue. In turn, it only affects patient outcomes."

A Children's Hospital representative gave this written statement to WCCO Monday:

At Children's Minnesota, we know that our employees are our most important resource. As health care organizations across the country continue to experience staffing shortages, Children's Minnesota has been utilizing more aggressive recruitment strategies to hire critical staff to support the care of our patients and their families. This has led to hiring more than 550 positions since the end of August. We've also strengthened our retention policies. We recognize the significant challenges health care staff have faced these last two years and continue to have open dialogue to find solutions to this unprecedented situation.

Representatives from MNA say increased wages, flexibility with time off requests, and safer working conditions would help to improve the issues.

A representative with Allina Health gave the following statement to WCCO Monday:

Our care teams have been providing exceptional and compassionate care under very challenging circumstances. As the pandemic continues its relentless pace, we acknowledge the growing frustration of the nurses, physicians and other care team members who are doing everything possible to care for a sustained surge of patients. We remain focused on doing everything we can to support our care teams and the communities we serve who need us now more than ever. We have been very transparent in asking the public to step up and do their part by taking all public health measures to help alleviate the incredible strain on our health care system. This is especially important during the holidays, and in light of a growing influenza infections and the omicron variant.

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