COLUMBUS, Ohio — Hundreds of nurses who gathered at the Ohio Statehouse Thursday argued that their hospitals are putting profit over people.
The event, organized by the grassroots group Nurse March Ohio, was planned for the final day of National Nurses Week and coincided with a demonstration in Washington, D.C.
“Nurse staffing has been an issue with greedy hospitals prioritizing profits and disinvesting in bedside care, and COVID has really exacerbated that,” said Rick Lucas, president of the Ohio State University Nurses Organization and 1st vice president of the Ohio Nurses Association.
Lucas said he is concerned about OSU Wexner’s efforts to recruit and retain nurses. He told 10TV that there are currently 750 openings at the hospital and that, for every one nurse who is hired, two are leaving.
But a spokeswoman said the openings are approximately 600 right now and disputed the other claims.
“Claims that twice as many nurses are leaving than are being hired simply aren’t true,” she said. “While the medical center is not immune to the recent national trend of workers changing jobs, we are making significant progress toward recruiting more high-quality nurses to join our exemplary team, despite a national shortage of nurses.”
Lucas also pointed out that the hospital and nurses union are in contract negotiations, which he said are not going well. And the Ohio State University Nurses Organization confirmed to 10TV that, since 2021, the union has received nearly 3,000 complaints from nurses complaining of unsafe conditions.
“We’re hoping that being here today will raise awareness with lawmakers and the community as to what’s happening in our hospitals so that they take this serious and help us hold hospitals accountable,” Lucas said.
The nurses held signs, changed and listened to speakers on the statehouse steps. The main concerns revolved around pay, PPE, safe workplace environments and nurse-to-patient ratios.
“It’s exhausting to think about the fact that every single person here at this rally chose to be a nurse on purpose, and we are not feeling that we are being supported in that role to take care of the sickest and the most vulnerable in our population, said Meris Shuwarger, who is just wrapping up her first year as a nurse.
Shuwarger is an ER and trauma nurse and says she is concerned about the staffing levels at her hospital, which she would not disclose.
“In the ER, we are not given the resources and the staffing that we need in order to be successful,” she said. “An ER ratio should be 4:1 at maximum, and unfortunately that is not often the case.”
January Belcher, who works at OSU Wexner, has been a nurse for 20 years. She says, one of the biggest changes she’s seen is that the community as a whole has gotten sicker.
“We’re getting stretched thin, overworked, we’re tired, we’ve had enough,” she said. “We deserve better, we deserve more because we bring a lot to the table. And it’s time for us to get recognized for that.”
She described the country as having a love-hate relationship with nurses.
“One minute, we’re lazy and we’re playing cards, as some senators have said, and we’re just playing around on our breaks,” she said. “And then we’re the heroes when COVID comes. But we’re the heroes without equipment, without safe PPE. We’re the heroes, going in, leaving our families, and then now we’re back when COVID is on the downside of things, and we’re not getting any kind of reward for it, no benefits, no pay wages, anything, like, we sacrificed so much, and no one cares anymore.”
Kiran McCoy, also a nurse at OSU Wexner, was very focused on the pay and respect. She’s been a nurse for 33 years. And she says she hasn’t received a raise in nine years.
“I’m at an age where I could retire now, but I don’t want to,” she said. “I have a lot more in me to give to these kids and to mentor them, and I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to be forced out. I’d like to be paid for what I’m worth.”
OSU Wexner released this statement to 10TV:
"We respect our nurses’ rights to demonstrate peacefully during personal time. We have a long-standing commitment to patient safety and care deeply about workplace safety and job satisfaction for our nurses and other frontline healthcare personnel. Progress on these issues comes through working together. The Wexner Medical Center’s top priority is providing high-quality, patient-centered care, while also sustaining a positive and engaging work environment."
Mount Carmel released this statement to 10TV:
"Nurses are central to our mission to be a transformational presence in the community. We are committed to ensuring that our nurses work in a safe environment and receive a competitive wage for their critical work. We are incredibly grateful for our dedicated nurses who deliver exceptional, healing care to our patients every day."
10TV did reach out to OhioHealth, but a spokesman declined to comment on the rally because the company does not employ ONA nurses.