Support Albany Med nurses who are speaking up for themselves and their patients

To the Editor:

I used to pray, some nights, when I was on a med-surg floor, quite a few years ago, that patients would not talk to me because we were so short staffed. All I had time for was giving meds and making sure no one had fallen out of bed or needed a linen change.

The short staffing at that hospital in those days was horrific, beyond stressful, unconscionable, and planned, really a part of business, I came to believe.

As a matter of fact, in any number of hospitals across the country, I would bet little has changed since then.

Indeed, with COVID, life on the floors is definitely more perilous.

Case in point:  Albany Medical Center.

This past Sunday, Oct. 18, on a bright autumn day, a large group of nurses came before the public and a microphone to, once again, declare their working conditions as horrific, beyond stressful, unconscionable, and probably just a part of doing business.

A hard pill to swallow — both for the nursing staff and for some of the public who will end up at Albany Med’s doorstep.

From the most compelling stories shared on Sunday, the public learned that suspect recycled N95 masks are being used. Insufficient triage of patients for COVID-19 of those entering the hospital system is alleged and floor staffing is reportedly so bare the hospital is “hemorrhaging nurses,” to quote one rally staffer. I can understand why.

As a nurse, it is one’s professional duty to try to keep patients safe and adequately cared for. This is a professional code of conduct. That is pretty hard to implement when you lack adequate protection for yourself and your patients and the staff-to-patient ratio prevents you from giving the care needed.

In my employment as a hospital nurse, I rarely felt valued as a professional by the administration. I was simply a faceless worker bee. I can remember often, in the early part of the day shift, running around trying to locate one of the all too few blood-glucose monitors to test patients’ blood-sugar levels.

I do believe these fairly simple devices are not all that expensive. Yet they were never easily accessible because there were always too few of them to go around and nurses had to spend valuable time running them down.

To value nursing professionals means you give them the tools they need to do their jobs. You provide for adequate staffing on all floors as well as for personal protective equipment and the training required for any new equipment and the time necessary to learn about that equipment.

The head of the New York State Council of Churches, Peter Cook, appeared on Sunday with the protesting nurses and the New York State Nurses Association union leaders and other union supporters.  These professionals respectfully presented their demands:

— 1. The right to a guarantee that all nurses will not have to sacrifice their lives while on the front lines of caring for patients. Nursing staff as well as their patients will be respected and valued as evidenced by much improved staffing levels and the implementation of protective protocols. As one participant at the rally said on Sunday: “I get up. I go to work. I should not have to die at work”; and

— 2. The right to a fair and just contract ….

It surprises me not at all that most of the nurses at Albany Med are stepping up and speaking out for themselves and their patients. Unionization was inevitable when the administration would not listen to the repeated pleas and proof proffered by these employees time and time again.

Albany Med has brought this situation upon itself.

The problem, as Peter Cook stated 10 months ago when the nurses were trying to get AMC to listen then and the higher-ups so obviously didn’t, is: “It is disturbing that our nurses are being treated so shabbily.”  I, as a retired nurse, agree fully.

I would also add: It is highly immoral and ultimately a most irresponsible action to abdicate the institution’s responsibility to its nurses as well as to the lives and well-being of many residents of our Capital Region, indeed, to any and all who pass through its doors.

But the public and future patients have a role to play in this crisis. Albany Med must insist on adequate nursing staffing and a guarantee of adequate personal protective gear for its caregivers — and not just for the short term.

Albany Medical Center needs to settle a fair and just contract with its nurses, and soon. The early stage of the second COVID wave may already be upon us.

The Albany Med main line is: 518-262-3125. Carry this message to Dr. Dennis McKenna. Do not stop there.

There are 35 members of the board of directors who also share responsibility for this most lamentable state of affairs. They need to hear from you, also.

And how does that old saying go? “The life you save may be your own?”

Betty Head


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