AUSTIN (KXAN) — National Nurses United, the union representing registered nurses at the Ascension Seton hospital on 38th Street, announced it would be delivering a petition to hospital management Wednesday morning to demand urgent improvements.

The union said in a news release that the short-staffing at the hospital is creating unsafe conditions for patients because nurses cannot spend as much time with each person. The union also said the short-staffing is creating an environment nurses do not want to work in.

In the news release, the union said, “short-staffing also creates a revolving door of nursing staff, who suffer moral injury and distress because they can’t provide the care they know results in the best patient outcomes.”

The union said the hospital has enough financial resources to hire more staff. This petition comes a month after nurses organized a 24-hour strike.

An issue of staffing and culture

Serena Bumpus, the C.E.O. of the Texas Nurses Association, said hospitals all around the country are having difficulty hiring enough staff for bedside care. The problem started even before the pandemic, but became worse afterward.

The union said there is no such thing as a “nursing shortage” in Texas. It points to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to claim that there are “nearly 128,000 registered nurses with active licenses who are choosing not to work at the bedside.”

Bumpus said a 2019 study by the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies shows there was a nearly 30,000 shortage of nurses when looking at supply and demand models. That shortage was projected to increase to 60,000 by 2032, but Bumpus said that number is likely bigger after the pandemic. The population growth in Texas is also creating access to care difficulties, Bumpus explained.

Bumpus said hospitals and health organizations around the country need to get creative in enticing nurses while also being able to work and compromise with their staff to find the best work solutions.

“Large health systems cannot create a canned formula for all of their hospitals and all of their specialty units across the organization. Because each community is different. Each hospital is different. The culture in each organization is different,” Bumpus explained.

Some of those ideas include offering more flexible hours, including shorter shifts, for bedside nurses and maybe even providing childcare services for nurses who are parents.

Hospital management responds

KXAN reached out to Ascension Seton about the most recent claims by the nurses union. This is the full statement from the hospital:

“Our highest priority remains the safety and well-being of the patients, associates and communities we are privileged to serve. Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin recently received another Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade of A, which has been sustained for the last four years, demonstrating the organization’s culture of safety and performance through well-implemented policies and procedures and staff support. This rating also included a best possible score for support of the nursing workforce as measured against national standards. 

Recruitment remains an everyday initiative through our robust workforce development program focused on recruiting and retaining nurses through our residency and fellowship programs, our nurse scholarship program and our partnerships with more than 40 schools of nursing.

We continue to negotiate in good faith to reach a mutually beneficial agreement that respects the human dignity and rights of all. We look forward to returning the focus to resolving issues at the bargaining table and reaching agreement on an initial contract for our registered nurses.”