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Health care workers asking for respect and pay, not smiles

While we love the support from the public, we expect and demand more from the people in charge of our hospitals who actually have the power to improve the lives of health care workers and our patients.

A healthcare worker checking on a patient infected with the coronavirus disease.
A healthcare worker checking on a patient infected with the coronavirus disease.
REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

I love being a health care worker — obviously, as I have worked in the ER for over 10 years. It has always been a challenging job. The COVID-19 pandemic and the current staffing crisis have made it even more challenging.

Many health care workers have left their positions due to stress. I have had countless conversations with co-workers who are breaking down and ready to give up. We want all patients to get everything they need to be healthy and safe. It is heartbreaking telling someone they have to wait because we don’t have enough staff.

So it was incredibly frustrating to see a recent commentary in this outlet from the president of the Minnesota Hospital Association saying health care workers need a “morale boost” and that a key action step is people “sharing a smile” with us.

Throughout the pandemic we actually have seen incredible generosity from patients, local businesses and the community. Things like cards from children, big thank yous from patients and the food sent by local restaurants acknowledging what we’re facing have been amazing. While we love the support from the public, we expect and demand more from the people in charge of our hospitals who actually have the power to improve the lives of health care workers and our patients.

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CEO pay has remained sky high during COVID and many hospitals are sitting on piles of money. Yet executives aren’t taking the easiest, most straightforward solution to keep the amazing staff they need now more than ever: increase pay and benefits for the amazing front-line health care workers to help retain the employees left and recruit more workers before things get worse.

I can’t stress enough how draining the past 20 months have been. Health care workers are burned out and having to do more with less; it’s bad for us and bad for patients. At times we are having to keep patients in the ER anywhere from 24 to 48 hours because we don’t have enough staff in departments where people need to go, thus creating a logjam of sick patients.

In my ER we’ve seen waits of up to five hours in the lobby at times, with dozens of people waiting. It’s not safe for patients with some people having to sit in hallways while experiencing pain, worry and exposure.

When our ERs become too busy to properly care for patients, we often have to divert ambulances to other hospitals. This has been happening too much, not only at my hospital but many others in the Twin Cities. At times we’ve had to open back up even though we aren’t in a position to give the patients the care they deserve.  While many patients are kind and thankful, some become frustrated with the long waits and get abusive. We can lend an ear, be positive, be encouraging, but none of those above things help with their physical ailments.

The status quo is not tenable. If no action is taken by executives, hospitals will continue to lose excellent employees. Patients will be the ones who suffer.

I would love to see the top executives who have worked from home during this pandemic spend a day with us and understand the stress we are under. They would quickly understand that being called heroes doesn’t change the reality we are facing.

Brianne Bernini
Brianne Bernini
Instead of hollow words from hospital executives, we need them to respect and pay the people who’ve kept us safe and healthy during this pandemic.

My union is part of the fight to win essential worker pay at the State Capitol, but that pay should be an extra bonus. We shouldn’t leave it to the state and federal government to recognize our work when these hospitals have money. It’s their job to take care of their employees.

My union is pushing for the executives of Twin Cities hospitals to come to the table and bargain around actual solutions to the staffing crisis that is hurting workers and patients. If our employers don’t take action, we are going to lose even more people and this crisis is going to get worse.

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Brianne Bernini is an emergency center tech at a Twin Cities hospital and a member of the  executive board of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.