Carol Reuter has been a delivery room nurse at Women & Infants Hospital for 30 years. Dana Ciolfi, a technician, has worked at Women & Infants for 37 years. Neither can recall a time when the hospital has been more understaffed.
“We’re all working overtime,” Reuter said. “We’re all working long hours without breaks, and sometimes we are short.”
Safe staffing levels are scheduled, they said, but not always realized.
“If people are out sick, you are short,” Ciolfi said. “If people are on vacation, you are short.”
Reuter and Ciolfi were two of the hundreds of hospital employees and supporters who took to the streets on Wednesday to call attention to the unsafe staffing levels. 1,700 employees of Women & Infants are mired in an increasingly caustic, two-month-long negotiation with Care New England, the management corporation that owns the hospitals, for a new contract.
Reuter and Ciolfi said Care New England’s 3-year hiring freeze is the biggest obstacle in negotiations.
“We want more staff so we can work our normal hours,” Reuter said. “That would be the best result, to get new people hired.”
She noted the irony that Rhode Island has three nursing colleges and a flagship hospital in need of nurses. “We trained them but we can’t hire them,” she said.
Ciolfi said eight employees have retired this year and none of those vacancies will be filled. She faults Care New England, the management company that operates the once-local not-for-profit hospital, for not understanding the staffing situation on an operational level.
She takes issue with paying CEO Dennis Keefe more than $1 million a year while trying to take away sick days from lower-wage employees. “It’s just such a disconnect from the world of the working people to the world of the 1 percent,” she said.
SEIU 199 NE, the labor union that represents employees at Women & Infants, says the current contract expired last week and employees “have extended the contract on a bargaining-session-to-bargaining-session basis since then,” according to a press release.
Reuter and Ciolfi said union members are prepared to go on strike if necessary.
Steve Ahlquist contributed to this report, and took all the pictures.