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Alongside various supporters, thousands of the University of Michigan Professional Nurses Council (UMPNC) members gathered in Fuller Park in support of safer staffing and a better contract for U-M nurses.
Before marching around the University of Michigan Hospital, UMPNC hosted a speaking program with several notable guests including U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI), UMPNC President Katie Oppenheim and President of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization and President of the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation Ian Robinson. UMPNC represents about 6,000 RNs, including those at the University of Michigan as well as satellite locations.
The community rally and informational picket comes after UMPNC’s contract expired on June 30.
One of the speakers, UMPNC Grievances Chair and President of the Michigan Nurses Association John Armelagos, said UMPNC has been working for a better contract for more than 100 days.
“The University wants to roll back the clock. We’re not going to let them,” Armelagos went on to say. “Our contract expired on June 30. Yet, administrators refused to meet over an extended 4th of July holiday week. They wanted to go on vacation.”
“We were working,” the crowd chanted.
Speakers like Armelagos and Oppenheim argued that the bargaining for a new contract would look out for the patients by implementing safer staffing practices.
“We are here today to demand a say in our nursing practices and we are unwilling to make concessions that jeopardize patient safety,” Oppenheim said.
Oppenheim cited issues within Michigan Medicine such as managers refusing to disclose staffing information and information regarding how many patients each nurse is responsible for at one time.
MI Nurses Association’s press release explains poor staffing and a lack of transparency regarding how many patients an individual nurse is responsible for can harm patients.
“Decades of well established research prove that when a nurse is forced to care for too many people at once, it can lead to medication errors, falls, and increased infection rates, and even patient deaths,” the statement reads.
LEO President Ian Robinson also joined the representatives for U-M nurses on the stage, explaining that even though LEO has made a huge step forward in signing its new contract with U-M, they will stand with their fellow allies at UMPNC against this injustice.
“The nurses stood with lecturers as we fought for our terrific contract. Thank you for your terrific support,” Robinson went on to say. “We celebrated our victory last night but we didn’t party too hard because the nurses continue to struggle for a decent contract. It doesn’t seem like the administration drew the right lessons from their negotiations with us.”
Robinson said there are overarching issues at stake at the University, explaining now is the time for the University to decide whether it will operate like a public or private institution and whether it will continue to put the interest of the few above the many.
Similarly, Ambulatory Care RN Desiree Conyers said the new Victor’s Care Program contributes to an elitist mentality at the University and in healthcare.
“I want quality care for each and every one of my patients and this crowd can relate,” Conyers said. “That’s why I’m deeply concerned about new Victor's Care Program.”
The Victor’s Care Program promises 24-7 access to a physician via phone or email, next day appointments and “unhurried” visits. The program costs patients an additional $3,600 out of pocket.
“I hear from nurses in our primary care clinics that it takes two weeks to make an appointment with a primary care doctor. And good luck making an appointment with a specialist. That can take even longer,” Conyers said. “Some patients who cannot afford Victor’s Care have even been forced to switch doctors because their former physician now only serves those who can pay for exclusive care.”
Finally, Dingell reflected on her own time being a patient at U-M hospitals and staying with her husband through his treatment at Michigan Medicine, saying she saw firsthand how short-staffed the hospital was with nurses.
“There is a direct link between patient outcomes and nurse delivery,” Dingell said. “And that’s because you guys are on the front lines.”
Dingell also used her time to advocate for universal healthcare.
“Every American has a right to quality affordable healthcare,” Dingell said. “We do need to work for Medicaid for all. Period, end of sentence. Let’s not forget that’s part of what this fight is for.”
After the informational session, thousands marched around the University hospital.
“When the nurses are outside, there's something wrong inside,” the crowd chanted.
“U of M head’s up. Nurses won’t give up,” the crowd continued to chant as they walked the loop around the hospital and back to Fuller Park.
In response to the rally Michigan Medicine spokesperson Mary Masson explained Michigan Medicine and UMPNC have been negotiating new contract since January. Masson said many of the primary issues have been solved.
"The University has offered the nurses a compensation package that includes competitive across-the-board increases of at least 3 percent and market based adjustments to wages, retirement, as well as items important to nurse practitioners, such as designated administrative time, holiday pay and shift differentials," Masson wrote in an email interview. "Importantly, the University has committed to maintaining current staffing levels. The nurses’ union has acknowledged that our staffing levels are excellent and the best in the state. Our nurses’ scores from a recent internal survey reflect that they rate our staffing positively relative to their ability to care for our patient and family needs."
More information regarding the negotiations can be found on the Human Resources website.