Are we of any value?
Are we of any value?
Why this petition matters
To Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health Systems administration and board members:
On behalf of myself, the loyal staff nurses at the Main Campus Emergency Department, and all nurses employed within this organization, here by petition the administration for fair compensation, improved working conditions, and the understanding that quality of care is a direct reflection upon the standards in which organizational principles value that of the general health, wellbeing, and the satisfaction of its employees.
Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center is a Level I trauma center with 988 “staffed” beds. We serve 820,000 outpatients and 38,000 inpatients annually. These statistics show that our hospital is the largest in Louisiana and the second in volume of patients. Yet, the nurses in this facility are paid some of the lowest wages in the state.
According to Ziprecruiter data, the 2022 Louisiana hourly wage for emergency room nurses ranked the lowest in the nation. Here the average per hour compensation for an ER Registered Nurse was $35.75, which equates to almost $10 less an hour than the national average; furthermore, adjoining states hourly wages average in at roughly $9 more. I alone, as with many others, make below the Louisiana average, though I’m one of the more senior nurses employed at the Main Campus Emergency Room. To further elaborate on the wage disparities, several Supervisory ED Nurses are hardly exceeding the states baseline average by a mere $1. Might I add that in 2019 Louisiana ranked the highest in the nation for emergency room visits. The national ER visit was approximately 437 per 1,000 population with the state of Louisiana coming in at 604 per 1000, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study from 1999-2019.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare took on a tremendous burden, especially those working within the hospital setting. Nurses on the front line endured more patient deaths than ever before during this time, as treatment regiments pursuant of lowering the mortality rates were still being explored. Near daily a nurse’s capacity was stretched and overwhelmed by the pandemic complexities often creating unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios. We repressed our fears, suppressed our feelings, and dawned the uniform amidst the uncertainties each day to help those in need. During the early phases of the pandemic, transmission was often brought home, due to the prodigious influx of patients, thus families of healthcare professionals were often left contemplating the choice of separation, or risk becoming a patient themselves. We had several nurses watch their loved ones perish, but the time for grieving had long passed. Through all these transgressions, we still manned the sails and faced the storm head on.
While we just achieved Level 1 status, we have been functioning as a Level 1 trauma center and operating at Level 1 census for years. On a slow day, the Emergency Department sees upwards of 175 patients. For many weeks we have averaged 180-220 patients a day. We now only have 35 full-time ER employees that have worked at Our Lady of the Lake Main Campus for a year or longer. In previous years the Emergency Department operated with 20-25 nurses daily. Recently the department has been operating with 15 nurses or fewer daily. All while seeing the same number of patients with much higher acuity rates than ever before. The acceptance of short staffing and solo charging a Level 1 trauma center has become the new normalcy. Contextually The individualized traits and character fortitude a nurse must possess to work under these conditions, could never be fathomed by most, let alone described in this petition. Understandably, the state of Louisiana does not have a defined nurse to patient ratio, however, the Emergency Department nurses are 4:1 while ICU nurses are 2:1 most days, and 3:1 maximum. An ER nurse can have up to four ICU patients at one time and up to 12 ICU patients in a single day depending on the acuity for the day. Medical-Surgical nurses take on upwards to six patients a shift. Every department is being pushed to their capacity, and we are all struggling.
Nurses shouldn’t question their organization’s ability to keep them safe, yet all too often our nurses feel the working environment fails to uphold their general physical wellbeing. Near daily nurses deal with unruly patients. We have been threatened, bitten, slapped, punched, and even have had to deal with our vehicles being broken into while working at the lake. On numerous occasions weapons, to include firearms, have made their way into our hospital, even as far as the patient rooms. The ratio of security to patient inflow needs refining. Not to mention the standards and training in which security personnel demonstrate needs addressing. Security at the front door to the ER now utilizes a walk-through metal detector, but when something is unresolved, they often take the word of the individual, and fail to utilize the wand to resolve the alarming item. To my knowledge it is illegal for weapons to be brought into the hospital setting regardless of permits or the fact that we live in an open carry state. No staff member should fear for their life in their workplace, regardless of the circumstances. A zero-tolerance policy is a zero-tolerance policy, no matter what. Nurses have an innate calling to serve, provide care, and be the lifeline for the communities in which we serve, and should never have to fear for their own safety while caring for patients.
Our Lady of the Lake Main Campus is the largest hospital in the state. According to U.S. News Top Hospital Rankings from 2016-2017, Our Lady of The Lake was recognized amongst the best in Baton Rouge, and number two in the state of Louisiana. These achievements would never have come to fruition without the professionalism and skill set of the Lakes Nursing staff. To meet these standards, nurses are required to chart certain criteria, meet time limits, and adhere to certain protocols; however, our nurses are compensated vastly lower than the national average nursing rate. The nurses in this facility deserve to be paid the rate of a nationally ranked hospital, in which they helped the organization achieve.
We are seeing the institution of healthcare as a whole change in real-time, one that advocates quality of care, yet embraces profiteering over patient outcomes and their nurses’ own wellbeing. The lake should strive to be a testament to how staff are treated, how they are compensated, and how we all coincide together for the betterment of one another. We can either shape the future or repeat the past. The burnout rate for nursing is climbing at alarming rates, and while I can cite endless statistics it’s all common knowledge at this point. We aren’t merely an expense on a balance sheet, and I challenge you to embody the assets in which the lake has created and should strive to retain.
I personally believe the nursing shortage and burnout rate is a direct echo of organizational acceptance to the perpetuated healthcare foundations of today. Holistically the healthcare system in the U.S. is structured with economic incentives principal to operating with minimal staff. Nurses are essential to the services a hospital offers, yet their voices are often muted because of the labor cost we are viewed as. We challenge you to set a new standard. One for other institutions to follow. We aren’t asking for contracts, we aren’t even asking for the travel pay, we're asking that you view us as an asset, an asset you're dignified to keep.
Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination. -Warren G. Bennis.
Will you listen?