BUFFALO, NY - On Tuesday, some of the Buffalo VA Medical Center nurses talked to reporters about how they were unhappy. They say that the people who run the medical center did not do a good job of ensuring enough staff during a dangerous storm. One nurse said he worked 66 hours straight during the storm! Another nurse said she worked 72 hours.
In a statement, the VA Western New York Healthcare System said, "there is no shortage of nurses." However, the nurses gathered at the press conference said they have attempted to work with administrators to help recruit and retain staff. Still, management has consistently not engaged in those talks.
Union officials said on Tuesday that they were going to file a complaint with the Federal Labor Relations Authority. They say the company has refused to bargain in good faith, dealt directly with employees, and made policy changes without bargaining first.
This is not the first time the nurses have voiced their concerns. The union held a protest on Aug. 2 to highlight their patient safety and staffing concerns. Among their requests: more flexibility in nurse scheduling, noting that some nurses there would work 20 hours straight.
The Inspector General's office released a report in July that found insufficient staff in 11 Buffalo VA Medical Center areas. This means there are not enough people to do the job in these areas.
There were also six nonclinical areas with shortages listed. Again, this means there were not enough people to do the job in these areas. Some of the jobs where there was a shortage were a practical nurse and nursing assistant.
Nicole White, a registered nurse in the float team at Buffalo VA Medical Center and a union leader, said there is not a nursing shortage but rather a crisis of nurses willing to work at the bedside as staffing conditions have deteriorated. She calls on the public not to
buy the narrative that there is a nursing staffing shortage."
Union officials are also calling for a change in the law to expand the collective bargaining rights for healthcare professionals at the VA. U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins' office has cosponsored a bill that seeks to do just that.
The press conference held by the nurses highlights the ongoing problem of staffing shortages and lack of engagement from management at the Buffalo VA Medical Center. The nurses are asking for better preparation for emergencies and long-term solutions to improve staffing and working conditions for the nurses on the frontlines of veteran care.
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