Nurses and Healthcare Workers at Aspirus Langlade Hospital Deserve Fair Pay and Safe Staffing, “Bed Shortage” is Actually a Shortage of Nurses and Health Professionals Willing to be Disrespected by Corporate Healthcare
We’ve all heard there are hardly any ICU beds available right now throughout our state and country. That’s because there aren’t enough nurses and healthcare workers left to staff those beds for patients who need them, and that’s a preventable travesty. The beds are empty. Our ranks are thin. It’s not our fault, though. As a nurse of 30+ years and advocate for my coworkers and patients, I can tell you with certainty: Nurses and healthcare workers aren’t burning out; we are being lit on fire by corporate healthcare executives who will sacrifice us to maintain their status quo. The very least my employer, Aspirus, can do is listen to us when we tell them what we need. As we suffer the worst of the surge (so far) now, Aspirus should finally respect our nurses and health professionals with fair pay and safe staffing so we can give our all to our patients.
I wrote a similar letter to the following when we were only 9 months into the pandemic and hoping it was on the decline. We didn’t have enough support from our employers then, despite our repeated requests. Unfortunately little has changed for us, the Healthcare Heroes (Aspirus’ words, not mine) at the bedside. We are now exhausted, but our efforts to care for our patients and our community don’t end when we leave the bedside. We are not replaceable, either. If we were, our healthcare system wouldn’t be on the verge of collapse. Across the country, nurses and healthcare workers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic for the last 22 months.
Right now, nurses and healthcare professionals who work at Aspirus Langlade Hospital are bargaining with Aspirus administration for a new contract to protect and respect us on the frontlines and at home. Our concerns from the frontlines aren’t always seen by administrators, whether they’re in Antigo or in Wausau at Aspirus’ headquarters. So, thankfully, we are able to bring these concerns to administration since we have a union.
But, like too many healthcare workers, we still do not have paid sick leave for COVID-19 or hazard pay, while we continue to work with COVID patients 24/7. While we all take precautions with the proper personal protective equipment, can anyone say that we unequivocally would not catch COVID from a patient or coworker? Aspirus tells us that if we do contract COVID that it must come from the community. With that being said, we do not get the same treatment as community members. We are not to follow the exact recommendations for quarantining from the CDC and health departments; Aspirus has made their own rules. Even if we are required to stay at home related to a COVID illness, we must use our earned PTO – vacation time. What if an employee does not have enough PTO to cover their absence? How do bills get paid? How do groceries get bought? Are we so invaluable that we do not deserve to use our well-earned PTO for an actual vacation when the pandemic subsides? We informed administration that nurses and healthcare professionals on the frontlines fear not being able to afford to stay home if they get COVID-19. This is a scary reality, and it does not have to be this way. Aspirus could offer us paid COVID leave and hazard pay, as many other organizations do.
We want clear staffing limits for our nurses and health professionals. Excellent nurses and health professionals are leaving Aspirus Langlade Hospital in alarming numbers. One of the main reasons is staffing. We’re looking for a safer place to work. We’re looking for a way to remove ourselves from this anxiety. We need better staffing, which means more nurses and health professionals working to be able to give patients what they need and deserve all of the time. They must stop using the pandemic as an excuse for staffing issues. Adding more patients and duties to our already heavy load is not the answer to being short staffed. Short-term gimmicks like incentives to work even more shifts on top of our regular jobs will not solve the core of the problem. These gimmicks are designed to encourage those of us who are already running on fumes to absorb even more work, which may solve a short term problem but makes the long-term problem worse, as we simply cannot sustain this workload. Our working conditions are our patients’ healing conditions, and we all deserve better.
There would be more nurses and health professionals if we were paid more fairly, allowed to care for patients rather than measured by our productivity and efficiency to keep the system smoothly churning while our administrators profit from our work.
Aspirus must post their top 10 wage increases on their tax filings. Between fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2020:
One administrator received a 13% raise, good for $25,000.
Another individual received a 12% raise, which amounts to $24,000.
The hospital president received a 27.7% raise, which is a whopping $88,760.
The CEO of the system, Matt Heywood, earned a 16.9% increase – or almost $200,000 dollars.
You can check the above numbers for yourself by reading their tax filings with the IRS for FY2019 and FY2020 for the hospital and for Aspirus, Inc. FY2021 is not yet available.
The raise they gave frontline nurses and healthcare workers in Antigo, your frontline heroes, was between 2-4%, and this year they’re only offering us 1.75%. Isn’t that a bit unfair?
We are the last lines of defense in this health crisis. Nobody sees what we see on the frontlines. We are tired. We are scared. We are working tirelessly to care for patients. We are their caregivers, advocates, and we offer a hand to hold when they are all alone. None of us on the frontlines really ever expected to have to live and work through something like COVID, and we just want to be taken care of, too. We don’t need to be called “heroes,” but we do need basic protections, safe staffing and respect.
We would like to say to our community: please stand by us, the WFNHP members and frontline workers, and tell Aspirus and Matt Heywood, President/CEO of Aspirus, to support our “healthcare heroes.” We deserve safe staffing and a wage increase. We are not asking for the huge numbers that administration received, only what is fair for the essential work we do to keep our patients cared for. We will all get through this if we take care of each other. Please, Aspirus, give us the tools to take care of ourselves so we can keep caring for our patients – you and your families.
Paid for by: Barb Pomasl RN, on behalf of all nurses and health professionals of Aspirus Langlade Hospital, WFNHP Bargaining Team