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Nurses union calls on UPHS - Marquette to act on staffing shortage

The union says as more employees leave, nurses are being overworked and overwhelmed by the number of patients in their care.
Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 6:48 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Amid a national nursing shortage, the nurses union at UP Health System - Marquette is speaking up about its frustrations.

The union took to Facebook on September 10, calling on UPHS administration to take action. According to Michigan Nurses Association Vice President Stephanie DePetro, more and more employees are leaving. The union says this results in “dangerous” staff to patient ratios, with one floor reaching nine patients to one nurse.

“For months and months, we have been talking about retention and recruitment of staff into the building,” said DePetro. “We’ve been hearing, ‘There’s not much we can do’ or ‘Our hands are tied.’”

DePetro says hospitals in other parts of the state are offering thousands of dollars to staff as an incentive to pick up extra shifts. Marquette healthcare workers are frustrated by this, particularly because staff were told 22 travel nurses would be coming to lighten the load, according to DePetro.

“Unfortunately, those people did not arrive, but we actually looked at the travel company website and looked at what they were being paid,” she said. “Some of them were up to $5,900 a week to come here and do our jobs. We don’t even take that home in a month.”

Monday afternoon, UPHS – Marquette responded with a statement by Marketing and Communications Director Janell Larson. She said, “Delivering high-quality, safe and compassionate care for our patients is our top priority at UP Health System, and we strive each day to be an excellent workplace for our employees.

“Like many healthcare systems across the country, we have continued to experience a surge of COVID-19 patients over the past few months. This reality – and the unrelenting pace, duration, and uncertainty of the pandemic – is taking a significant toll on our physicians, nurses, and other frontline workers…. Staffing in the current environment continues to be a challenge for most hospitals – and we are not immune. We know that our mission of Making Communities Healthier cannot be achieved without the teams of compassionate individuals who work here. We are exploring and implementing numerous strategies at the health system to address staffing challenges across all disciplines. Our clinical staff members are a vital part of our workforce, and we are working every day to attract, develop and retain high-performing talent at our hospitals. We are committed to working collaboratively with the Michigan Nurses Association as we address our recruiting and retention efforts in the UP.

“We are so grateful for our entire team of healthcare heroes and how tirelessly they are working to provide excellent care to our community.”

On August 31, UPHS announced it would give workers at Bell Hospital in Ishpeming paid time off, as thanks for their hard work over the past year. That time off was going to be funded by a state COVID-19 relief grant.

However, in her statement on Monday, Larson said that grant money was not intended to be used for time off. She says UPHS will now reevaluate how to use the funds.

“To help alleviate these pressures, Governor Whitmer’s office, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, issued a COVID-19 relief grant to 51 rural hospitals in Michigan, including UPHS – Bell and Portage,” Larson wrote. “This grant is intended to support small, rural hospitals with COVID-19 related mitigation strategies. UPHS – Bell initially announced plans to distribute additional paid time off to employees as part of this grant funding, but ultimately determined that this does not meet the criteria for how these funds must be used. We are currently evaluating how to best utilize this funding to ensure we are maximizing COVID relief across the UPHS system – in a way that supports our people, patients, and communities.”

The nurses union contract at Marquette expires in May.

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