Worker Correspondents: Covid Nurse Expresses Need to Organize

By Henry Underwood

A nurse who works in a Covid-19 ward at Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin recently spoke with Tribune about high patient-to-nurse ratios, under-staffing, and the necessity to organize for better pay and working conditions.

“When the pandemic first started, we begged for specialty pay or hazard pay. … They refused. They all said no,” she told Tribune.

Despite a sharp increase in work demands by hospital administration, including raising patient-to-nurse ratios from 3:1 to 4:1, hospital administration “cancelled yearly raises for everyone when the pandemic started. They do not pay Covid nurses hazard pay or specialty pay,” the nurse said.

Beyond their withholding of hazard pay, their under-staffing also affects patients directly. The nurse explained, “A lot of these patients should be in the ICU, but because there’s no room, we’re having to take care of ICU-grade patients, which is really stressful and puts our licenses on the line. There’s just not enough beds.”

Patients also notice this lack of staffing. “Understaffing decreases the quality of patient care so much. No patients on the floor can get a bath unless the nurse does it,” she said. “When we are short-staffed, patients complain that they feel neglected, while we nurses haven’t sat down the whole day.”

She highlights that they are not trained to be ICU-level healthcare workers and don’t have the level of staffing needed to care for these patients. “We had to learn as we were going, even though we didn’t know anything about high-flow oxygen (a necessary treatment for Covid patients).”

Instead of increasing pay for the nurses, Dell Seton Medical Center has funded a campaign which lauds nurses as “healthcare heroes,” while underpaying nurses and maintaining its hospital understaffed.

Dell Seton Medical Center “calling us ‘healthcare heroes’ is such a stab in the back. If we were heroes, you would pay us more. If they really meant that, they wouldn’t spend all this money on the publicity campaign and would spend that money on us,” the nurse shared with Tribune.

This nurse emphasized the economic foundation for these problems, stating that “under capitalism it’s just so hard to get healthcare. People are waiting to go to the hospital which just makes them sicker.”

Despite the neglect from administration, the nurse understands what the threat of an organized nurse force would mean for the hospital administration, sharing, “Nurses are the ones doing all the work. We are carrying most of the load. We hold the cards. If we show the administration that we know that we have leverage here, things could change.”

“The only way for things to get better is for us to strike, and for nurses to be inflexible in our demands. If that were to happen in Austin, it would inspire people in Houston to do the same. It would catch like wildfire. If we can get enough people to strike, we can’t lose. If one unit in the hospital refused to clock in, within one hour we would have our demands met,” she said.

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