On May 12, approximately 300 demonstrators converged on the Ohio Statehouse for a rally in solidarity with nurses. Ohio State University Nurses Organization, a local unit of the Ohio Nurses Association, held the rally in support of the nurses’ labor demands amid ongoing contract negotiations with the Ohio State University Medical Center.
The primary demands are for safe staffing and fair wages. Ashley Lantto, a registered nurse and event organizer, explained, ”Nurses and health care professionals have had enough. For decades, health care systems have put profits above all else, which contributes to jeopardized patient care and unsustainable work environments. The pandemic has only magnified these issues … We must come together to create meaningful solutions now.”
The rally began at 10 a.m. with a large crowd in attendance, the majority of whom were nurses in scrubs sporting campaign T-shirts with the slogan, “The time is now to fix nurse staffing.” Following opening remarks, demonstrators marched the perimeter of the statehouse with their signs expressing support for the nurses and chanting, “What do we want? Safe staffing! When do we want it? Now!” Motorists and passersby expressed solidarity with honking and calls of support.
Safe staffing is a suite of policy demands that nurses need to ensure the safety of themselves and their patients. Staff-to-patient ratios are a major factor in the labor shortage crisis among workers in the medical field. High numbers of patients assigned to each RN increases rates of patient readmission and mortality, as well as feelings of burnout and frustration among the nurses.
Other essential policies for safe staffing include programs to address workplace violence directed against nurses and other staff. According to “Workplace Violence in Healthcare,” a 2015 OSHA Report, “incidents of serious workplace violence (those requiring days off for the injured worker to recuperate) were four times more common in healthcare than in private industry on average.”
When asked at the rally by a show of hands who had been physically assaulted or verbally abused on the job, nearly all the nurses raised their hands. The demands of the nurses include a reporting mechanism for threats of physical violence against health care workers and expanded access to mental health care resources for workers experiencing traumatic events in the workplace.
Molly Homan, Director of Communications for ONA, spoke to why hospital administrators are refusing to concede to nurse’s demands: “Typically when it comes to a budget, staffing is the largest budget item and it’s also the easiest to cut, so they are trying to get away with less nurses and less staff … so they can spend less money and then think that the patients are going to get the type of quality care that they came into the hospital to receive, that they trust that hospital to provide for them. So, I think largely it’s a budget issue and they are trying to exploit nurses and wring as much out of them as they can. It’s just not safe.”
January Belcher, Union RN at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and member of the OSUNO contract negotiating team, said, “The time is now to … increase pay wages and not to cap [our pay]. To cap one of us, you cap all of us. To bring excellent benefits that we deserve to be in a safe environment to work in and to have safe patient ratios so we can take excellent care and do what we were born to do.”
Advocates for Carolyn’s Law, or the Nursing Facility Patient’s Bill of Rights, were also canvassing at the rally. They are organizing to establish an Ohio constitutional amendment for legislation that will provide safe staff-to-patient ratios of 1:5 for nurses and nurse aides in skilled nursing facilities and 1:8 for nurses and nursing aides in long term care facilities.
The proposed amendment is named in memory of Carolyn L. Ruffin, a patient at a rehabilitation facility who fell on her head and later passed. Carolyn’s husband, Jesse J. Ruffin, spent every night in nursing facilities for three-and-a-half years with her, and in that time observed the intense strain on nurses due to understaffing, which he believes contributed to her death. He launched the campaign in memory of his wife, and Carolyn’s Law advocates are currently gathering signatures to get their petition on the ballet for 2022.
The concerns and perspectives of nurses and health care professionals demonstrates the need to transform the structure of health care in this country as we know it. The predatory for-profit model has pushed what should be public infrastructure to the brink, at the expense of patients and the nurses that treat them. However, front-line medical workers are organizing and mobilizing, and pushing back against the greed of insurance companies and hospital executives to win what they deserve. It is not enough to simply recognize health care workers as essential, but we must also fight back to ensure they are treated as such!
Feature photo: Ohio nurses rally for safe staffing and fair wages outside the Ohio Statehouse. Liberation photo