Complaining that their management is expecting them to be “15-minute nurses,” over 30 registered nurses from St. Vincent Catholic Medical Center Home Healthcare protested in front of the agency’s offices in Rego Park last Thursday.
“The patients are coming home quicker and sicker and we need adequate time to take care of them,” said Shirley Hunter, chairwoman of the home care agency’s chapter of the New York State Nurses Association.
St. Vincent’s delivers home health care services to patients in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Nassau and Suffolk counties. The nurses’ last contract expired on April 20, 2002.
On the top of the nurses’ list of complaints is the heavy client loads they are asked to carry, many of which significantly exceed the maximum of 17 to 23 patients per week specified in the most recent contract. Union leader Maria Flores said some nurses are being assigned as many as 40 or 50 patients per week.
“If you have so many patients to see per day, you end up working long hours and taking work home with you,” said Hunter, a Jamaica resident who has worked 8 of her 23 years as a nurse in the home care agency.
Flores stated that some nurses are working 10 or more hours a day, and then taking paperwork home with them.
The increasing distances between patients is another big gripe. Flores said nurses are often assigned to patients in Brooklyn and Queens in the same day, and as a result, are unable to give patients sufficient attention.
ºome care nurses install feeding tubes and catheters, teach patients about their medication and train family members to care for their loved one —all tasks that ought not to be hurried.
The heavy workloads have taken their toll on the younger nurses, several of whom have fallen ill under the strain, Hunter said. She pointed to a nationwide shortage of nurses and said the company needs to actively recruit more staff.
But the most frustating aspect of the nurses’ jobs is the paperwork, which Hunter said averages about 4-1/2 to 5 hours per day.
Each new admission requires filling out 30 to 36 pages of forms, and recent goverment regulations continue to expand the paperwork for Medicare, Medicaid and HMOs.
Some health care facilities have striven to alleviate this problem by giving their nurses laptop computers, but Hunter said that St. Vincent’s management “refuses to look at other models.”
In response to the nurses’ demands, St. Vincent’s spokesman Michael Fagen issued the following statement: “Management and nurses of SVCMC continue to negotiate the terms of the nursing contract. We have a responsibility to continue the process of negotiation at the bargaining table, not in a public forum.”