As the auto worker strike continues to garner national attention, nurses across the US will hold a strike of their own.
Over 6,500 nurses in hospitals around California, Arizona, Florida, and Illinois will strike on September 20. The strike will mark the first ever nurse strike in Arizona, and the first hospital registered nurse strike in Florida’s history.
Nurses who are part of the National Nurses United union are asking for better nurse retention and nurse-to-patient ratios. Most nurses who will be participating in the strike are employed with Tenet Healthcare, a multinational health-services company that operates 65 hospitals and 500 other healthcare facilities.
Four nurses told Business Insider they have been negotiating with Tenet for a better contract for over a year and haven’t received the concessions they demand.
“The strike is first and foremost about patient care and patient advocacy,” Dominique Hamilton, a registered nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Arizona, said. “We want the hospital to invest in the nursing staff, and we want to have more input into the recruitment and retainment of experienced [registered nurses].”
In a statement provided to Business Insider, Tenet spokesperson Allan Koenig said they had been negotiating a new contract for the last few months in good faith and feel disappointed nurses have chosen to strike. “We value our relationship with all our employees, and we are committed to resolving the contract negotiations,” Koenig said.
Nurses that work for the University of Chicago Medical Center will also strike for five days over nurse-to-patient ratios. These nurses are not affiliated with Tenet, but are part of the NNU union. About 2,200 nurses from the University of Chicago will go on strike.
“We’re disheartened that we had to get to this point,” Sharon O’Keefe, University of Chicago Medical Center President, said in a release. “We worked long and hard negotiating with the help of a federal mediator and had hoped union leadership would meet us half way.”
Why nurses are going on strike
Unionized nurses say hospitals assign too many patients than they can reasonably care for in a day.
Assigning nurses too many patients leads to worse patient care, Linda Aikens, long-time researcher and current professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told Business Insider. Research from Australia suggests that when nurses don’t have more than four patients at a time, it can save lives and lead to less re-admission.
Yet just 18% of nurses believe their nurse-to-patient ratios — or the amount of patient a hospital assigns them — are safe, according to a 2019 survey of Illinois nurses. Plus, nurses burn out quicker when assigned too many patients, which leads to high rates of turnover.
Yajaira Roman, a registered nurse in Florida, says her hospital has nurses working with eight patients in a day.
“Our patient ratio is one of our major issues here,” Roman said. “We’re asking those numbers be decreased… that way we can give the patient the optimal care they deserve.”
Nursing is one of the fastest growing professions in the US. While there was once a shortage of nurses, many younger nurses have joined the field, Peter Buerhaus, a professor of nursing at the Montana State University College of Nursing, told Business Insider. The issue, however, is that the average age of a nurse is 51— meaning as experienced nurses retire, inexperienced nurses will take their place.
Buerhaus said this could lead to a slight decline in patient care.
“The reason why we are striking is because we are advocating for our patients so they can get optimal care,” said Gina Rittenhouse, a registered nurse for the San Ramon Regional Medical Center in California. “We want the hospital to take steps to strengthen the recruitment and retention of experienced nurses.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said nurses in Texas were going on strike. Though El Paso Nurses will hand out flyers and conduct public outreach, they are under contract and cannot legally strike.