At the start of the COVID pandemic, nurses were among those hailed as health heroes.
For RN Paul Pater – who has contracted and recovered from COVID-19 – it now looks like a public relations stunt.
“We’ve gone from heroes of the COVID pandemic to who cares, get back to work, shut up,” Pater said.
Nurses are literally under attack, he said.
DeBreisha Flowers-Anderson is also a nurse in the emergency department at UI Health and says she understands patients come to the hospital with anger and anxiety.
” They suffer. They may have lost a loved one. But what I cannot understand is the physical violence imposed on us to take care of them because they are afraid, ”she said. “I was followed and pursued. I was threatened with drums. I was threatened with rape. I was hit in the face. I was spat on and I was spat on. All of these things left me with emotional and physical scars.
Pater and Flowers-Anderson are both shop stewards with the Illinois Nurses Association and, along with members of SEIU Local 73, picketed Tuesday against unsafe working conditions.
They say 18 nurses have left in the past year due to an unbearable and dangerous situation.
According to the Schaumburg Emergency Nurses Association advocacy group, 54% of emergency department nurses said they had experienced workplace violence within seven days of the organization’s survey ending.
Pater has been unable to work since late August, when he says he was attacked by a drunk patient who accepted a COVID test.
“They allowed me to run the test until the swab got into the patient’s nose, and then they kind of flipped over. This patient kicked me in the stomach, chest, shoulder, ”he said. “And then the patient kicked me in the lower back and upper gluteal region. “
At first the pain didn’t bother him, but it got worse. He later learned he had labral tears in his hips and cam deformities in both thighbones.
Pater has had an operation and may require another. He said in a separate incident, a patient brought a gun to the ER; another passed a metal detector carrying knives.
“The incidents continue to happen and it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured,” said Pater. “That doesn’t mean I wasn’t seriously injured, because I have to have two surgeries to get me back to where I was before that. But I don’t want to see one of my collaborators die. I don’t want to see another patient die because we’ve been lax, because the hospital didn’t want to spend the money or make the effort to make sure people are safe.
He said the hospital cannot handle the volume of patients coming to the emergency room.
A Tribune investigation found that the U of I hospital had seen the volume of ambulances double since Mercy Hospital stopped receiving deliveries from firefighters earlier this year – a peak widely referenced in one statement from University of Illinois Hospital CEO Michael Zenn, who says the health needs of patients, including those who have previously sought care at Mercy, are significant.
In an emailed statement, Zenn thanked the nurses at UIHealth for their dedication and noted that patients are also increasingly seeking care for issues that have not been addressed during the crackdown on the pandemic. .
“These events continue to test our capacity and our staff, especially in the emergency department, but these challenges have not harmed patients and we have taken new steps on several fronts to help our staff in the emergency rooms. emergencies to provide high quality care to our community. ” Zenn said.
These actions include:
Hiring 29 emergency department nurses this year, the majority of them under an arrangement that provides flexibility in staffing
Create a descent unit for patients ready to be discharged from the hospital, freeing up space so emergency patients do not have to wait for a hospital bed
Develop a process so that when emergency room patients have to wait for a hospital bed, inpatient unit staff, not emergency room nurses, can help provide care
And when it comes to security, UI Health has:
Police officers on site and
Metal detectors at emergency entrances
Emergency nurses receive additional compensation for overcrowding
“While we have a responsibility to our nurses – who are among the highest paid nurses in Illinois – we also have a responsibility to all of our staff, to our patients and to the State of Illinois,” which requires us to manage our budget responsibly, ”Zenn said in a statement. “We invite our nursing colleagues to join us in finding equitable solutions and look forward to continuing direct discussions regarding their concerns and ideas. “
The leaders of the nursing unions have ideas.
Pater said the hospital should encourage nurses from other units to work in the emergency room while he hires at least seven more emergency room nurses.
Members of the nurses’ union also want security in the waiting room at U of I 24-7 hospital, security required to intervene when a situation arises, and security required to monitor whether patients visitors are allowed so that nurses can focus on the patients. care.
“We would also like them to provide security or police personnel to sit with these abusive patients. I am not trained to defuse, I am not trained to kill a violent patient. They are, ”said Flowers-Anderson. “So we need people who can do the best job in this job. She’s not a nurse, she’s not a technician.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky