This summer, nurses from the UVM Medical Center went on strike to protest unfair wages and insufficient staffing.
The issue may feel localized — there are red “patients before profits” posters dotting the neighborhoods and the nurses picketed on Colchester avenue right by campus — but this is a problem in hospitals nationwide.
In nearby Rhode Island, the nurses’ union held a strike for the same reasons as UVM’s nurses.
Although pay increases were among the demands for both UVM and Rhode Island nurses, here, safe staffing — a term that refers to having enough nurses to comfortably meet the needs of each patient — is a chief concern of nurses.
For the administration, this would mean supplying the money to hire more nurses in order to accommodate the volume of care needed.
While having relatively few nurses and pushing the limits of the nurse-to-patient ratio may be attractive from a financial point of view, it is ultimately an unsafe practice.
There are several constantly fluctuating factors in a hospital that make it impossible to decide on an ideal patient-nurse ratio across the board, which include the volume of admissions, intensity of patient needs and available resources, according to the Vermont Department of Health.
When deciding on a safe ratio, the administration cannot ignore the judgement of the nurses, who understand the patients needs more intimately than anyone else in the building.
Reaching an agreement on a maximum patient to staff ratio is not unreasonable or unprecedented.
In most states, daycares have a legal maximum child-staff ratio in order to ensure safe and effective care for the children being cared for, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Because a hospital’s priority is the health and safety of patients, this ratio is of utmost importance.
Some might say this strike puts the health of hospital patients at risk. However, at the core of the issue, these nurses know the hospital better than most. And they care about their patients. If they’re on strike, there is a very real reason for it.