Amid Contract Negotiations, Kaleida Health Workers Raise Concerns Around Severe Understaffing Endangering Patient CareJune 14, 2022
For Immediate Release:
In a new survey, an overwhelming 97% of Kaleida union workers say the system can’t retain employees; understaffing, lack of resources create unsafe conditions
Buffalo, NY - Today, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1168 and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East released a new joint survey of nurses, therapists, technologists, clerical staff, and other professional and service workers at Kaleida Health demonstrating widespread concerns around working conditions caused by understaffing inside the multi-tiered hospital system. The current union contract, which was set to expire on May 31, was extended to June 30 as negotiations for the new contract continue. Kaleida currently has more than 1,000 unfilled positions, and workers are raising concerns about their own safety as well as the safety of their patients, and demanding critical changes that will allow the hospital to attract and retain staff to improve the quality of care.
Survey results reveal an overwhelming majority of Kaleida staff are concerned about the hospital’s failure to retain employees as they struggle to provide care with a shrinking workforce and dwindling clinical supplies. Out of nearly 900 workers surveyed, 97% say that Kaleida is having trouble retaining employees. Almost 90% cite concerns around quality care as the key factor in why the staff is leaving, while 72% say it is the result of poor working conditions.
Workers overwhelmingly agree that Kaleida is failing to adequately invest in a positive, safe environment for patients and staff:
70% of workers surveyed have considered quitting their job, with 60% of those workers citing understaffing as the reason and 40% citing a lack of respect from management. Nearly 30% of workers surveyed report experiencing violence at work from patients or visitors at least once in the past year. Inadequate healthcare staff to provide timely quality care to frustrated patients, and a lack of security staff to ensure a safe environment, are at the core of this issue.
Nearly 70% of workers say they don’t have the equipment or supplies needed to deliver adequate care to their patients.
Kaleida staff also report feeling defeated and disrespected by the hospital’s leadership when the current union contract is violated. After raising concerns and proposing solutions for months without adequate response, workers are demanding stronger grievance procedures and problem solving mechanisms in their new contract.
“Staffing shortages at Kaleida are pushing workers to exhaustion and compromising care for patients,” said Cori Gambini, President of CWA Local 1168 and a Registered Nurse. “Long before the pandemic, Kaleida carried out devastating cuts to staff in all departments. This poor decision-making led us where we are today, in the midst of a nationwide healthcare shortage with a dangerous lack of staff. We need Kaleida to invest in staff and address the issues in the hospital immediately.”
“Before the pandemic Kaleida cut Patient Care Assistants (PCA) and Certified Medical Assistants (CMA) that were critical to care for sick patients, leaving our PCA’s at Buffalo General and Millard Fillmore Suburban forced to care for triple the amount of patients,” said 1199SEIU Vice-President Jim Scordato. “For months we have been working to come to an agreement on better staffing ratios as laid out in the new staffing legislation, but for areas not covered by the legislation, we will use our collective bargaining agreement to move to a more acceptable level – a ratio that is safe and fair for everyone. It’s up to Kaleida to work to fill vacant positions and meet the ratios that we agree is fair for patients and staff.”
Severe understaffing throughout the hospital is driving a quality care crisis for patients. Workers report that patients may be waiting for hours before being visited by a care provider, and as healthcare professionals, they are devastated by the knowledge that they may not be able to uphold their values by giving patients the care they deserve. In addition, workers report troubling shortages of materials that are critical for patient care.
“Every day when I arrive at work, I wonder what I’ll be walking into. Will I have what I need to treat my patients?” said Jenna Depczynski, Registered Nurse at Buffalo General Hospital. “Staff are outnumbered, with patient ratios as high as eight-to-one lately. We are seeing back-to-back patients, with no breaks. The stress of trying to provide quality care to every patient in my assignment – the care I know they deserve – prevents me from even taking bathroom breaks during my shift. We are all mentally and physically exhausted, we’re scared for our patients, and we are crying out for help.”
The impact understaffing and cost-cutting are having on patient care is understandably causing patients and their families to become frustrated and angry, leading to an uptick in violent confrontations. A number of Kaleida staff members surveyed reported experiencing violent or threatening incidents with patients and family members.
“During one shift last August, I was the only Patient Care Assistant on the floor and carrying a 31-patient assignment. It was impossible to keep up, and one of my patients ended up kicking me so hard I had to have surgery. I have been out on compensation leave ever since,” said Kelly Barbosa, Patient Care Assistant. “It’s not lost on me that my being out only exacerbates the issue that caused the accident. As long as Kaleida won’t provide a safe environment to work in, they will continue losing staff. Our patients are our priority, and they are feeling abandoned, confused, and rightfully angry. That’s why we want to work with Kaleida to fix these tragic conditions.”
“We are supposed to have two technicians on the evening shift when possible, if staffing permits, but we simply don’t have enough staff,” said Thomas White, Surgical Technician at Oishei Children’s Hospital. “Even though they are hiring, the new technicians aren’t fully trained yet. We still have to cancel surgeries when we don't have enough techs, and sometimes we can only handle emergencies. We try to accommodate the best we can, but if folks are so tired, you can't force them to work past their shift because it's unsafe for you and the patient.”
“I work as an assistant for pre-op and post-op in the Ambulatory Surgery Center, helping patients before and after surgery,” said Tasha Johnson, Medical Assistant at Oishei Children’s Hospital. “At one point, we had 65 patients and not enough staff to care for them. It was a constant room turnover, and I was doing three or four jobs at once. In addition to my role as Medical Assistant, I was serving as an environmental service worker to help clean rooms so patients could come out to the recovery area, and I was assisting with transporting kids and their parents to their vehicle so kids could be discharged. I was doing all of those jobs myself to ease the family’s stress level, so they didn’t have to be concerned about how their child was being taken care of. I was physically exhausted and mentally drained. I didn’t do the best I could do for our families and I felt dissatisfied.”
If Kaleida wants to be a top-tier provider where patients expect the highest levels of care, it needs to ensure talented staff is incentivized to remain in the hospital system. Workers are overwhelmed, overworked, and feel underappreciated. Union workers are demanding a contract that ensures safe staffing levels, increases wages, and guarantees that they will be heard and protected on the job. This is crucial not only for improving patient care now, but for attracting and retaining the skilled workers the hospital system desperately needs to care for the community.
Based on bargaining so far, CWA and 1199SEIU feel confident that Kaleida executives understand workers’ concerns and will come to the table ready to meet their demands for the good of the entire hospital system. Both sides return to bargaining today, Tuesday, June 14, 2022 and will continue to bargain 3 days per week.
The Communications Workers of America represents 300,000 working people nationally in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, and manufacturing.
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest and fastest-growing healthcare union in America. We represent over 400,000 nurses and caregivers throughout Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Florida. Our mission is to achieve quality care and good jobs for all.