This Nurses Week, we salute those who care for us and stress the need to hire more nurses

This Nurses Week, we salute those who care for us and stress the need to hire more nurses

Member-provided photo

For Marilyn Anthony, a registered nurse who works at Connecticut’s Waterbury Hospital, nursing is a family affair. Her late brother and her late mother were registered nurses at the same hospital. And both of them belonged to the same union where Anthony is now co-president: AFSCME-affiliated CHCA District 1199, NUHHCE.

“I became a nurse because I wanted to help shepherd people through some of the most difficult times of their lives and give my fellow humans the time and attention they deserve,” Anthony says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Anthony and her team of nurses are essential to the operations of their institution, serving as “the eyes, ears and noses” of the doctors.

 “Physicians rely on us to catch any changes. It’s then up to us to manage and facilitate everything the physician has ordered for the patient – the X-rays, the lab work, the mobilization of that patient,” she says.

But Anthony has seen her beloved profession change a lot over her 32-year career. One big change since the COVID-19 pandemic is severe short staffing. This is making it difficult to provide quality patient care and protect the well-being of nurses.

“When you walk in the door, you’re never quite sure what your (patient-to-staff) ratio would be pushed to,” Anthony says. “Back when we were a nonprofit hospital, we had the patients’ best interests at heart. We had certain ratios that we would just never go past. Now you walk through the door and could have five patients at once. It’s really not a doable situation.”  

Thanks for her union, Anthony says workers at her hospital have been able to protect their pay. “But,” she adds, “there’s been a lack of investment in essential equipment that protects both us and patients. We deal with outdated, broken equipment.”

This is National Nurses Week, and AFSCME members honor these hardworking professionals who care for their communities despite short-staffing, overwhelming caseloads, equipment shortages and tough working conditions.

In a video message, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said surveys show nursing is the profession Americans trust the most. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they showed extraordinary dedication, putting their patients’ lives over their own.

“But overwhelming caseloads and chronic staffing shortages are making this work more dangerous and difficult than ever,” Saunders said. “During Nurses Week, let’s express our thanks. More importantly, let’s give us incredible nurses the support and resources they need on the front lines.”

Due to short staffing, Anthony’s shifts are typically 12 hours long with little to no opportunity for uninterrupted lunches or breaks longer than 30 minutes. But short staffing won’t be solved simply by raising pay, she warns. Hospitals must guarantee a safe working environment for workers and provide enough equipment. For instance, she says her hospital needs more specialty beds for overweight patients.

The stresses of the profession are driving away newly minted nurses. Of the 82,000 active registered nurses in Connecticut, only about 39,000 provide bedside care, Anthony says.

“We have nursing students come in and they see immediately how bad the situation is, and that it is not what they signed up for. So they are all making plans to leave bedside nursing. And we are all fooling ourselves if we really think that someday we won’t end up in that bed, or somebody we love won’t be in that bed,” she says.

Anthony views it as her mission to improve conditions for patients and workers.

“If I didn’t do my best to try and rectify what’s going on and bring awareness to it, I will have no one to blame but myself,” she says. “Despite everything, I know I still make a difference. I still give that patient and that family member that sense of comfort and that I’m looking out for them, that I have their health and their well-being always in the forefront of my mind. I am, to my core, a patient advocate.”

Nurses are not the only ones suffering from a staffing crisis. Many public service jobs that were lost during the COVID-19 pandemic still haven’t been filled. This means AFSCME members on the front lines are being forced to do more with less.

That’s why AFSCME launched Staff the Front Lines to address these public service worker shortages. AFSCME members across the country are working to recruit professionals to fill these jobs, bringing relief to front-line workers and making sure communities continue to receive quality public services they need and deserve.