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After nearly three years of the pandemic, nurses look for solutions to the industry-wide staffing crisis.

Laken Gray has been an ICU nurse at McLaren Bay for the last 13 years. She loves her job and the intensive care she is able to provide every day.

“I love being able to take care of critically sick patients and get them approved to the floor. And when we can’t achieve that right away, we keep patients and families comfortable as they receive care,” says Gray.

But nurses like Gray are being routinely pushed to the limit, picking up shifts and working long hours as they contend with a staffing crisis that hasn’t spared any hospital. As a result, providing quality patient care has become increasingly challenging. For patients in the ICU, that could mean the difference between checking and reducing a patient’s blood pressure in a timely manner.

“We are assigned two patients, sometimes up to three, which means patients don’t get one-on-one care. We try to give our patients the best care possible,” says Gray.

At Munson Cadillac, RN Bonnie Alworden has observed an influx of patients with mental health challenges in the ER due to a lack of community services. This system failure puts a strain on the healthcare staff already dealing with so many challenges. RNs have come to their Union for support in these tough times.

“Working together in our Union makes a huge difference. We have a lot of newer stewards, but we are making huge strides. It’s becoming more of a group effort,” says Gray.

“Though I was originally skeptical, I’ve been a Union steward for 30 years now. The stability of the Union contract makes a big difference. It provides stability and a voice, and when we use our voices we get heard,” says Alworden.

Across multiple hospitals, RNs are leading the way to create solutions and pushing for changes – in their workplaces and the industry as a whole.

At Munson Cadillac, retention bonuses have eased some of the staffing issues. The Union and the hospital negotiated a $5,000/year retention bonus for a 2-year commitment. It’s been a helpful stopgap, but Alworden says bigger solutions need to come from the state and federal level.

“Between 2023 and 2030, we will lose 25-50% of staff due to retirement because we are aging out and wearing out. Not enough new nurses are coming into the industry. We need to bring back federal programs that support nurses for choosing to work in rural areas that are struggling to recruit staff.”

Gray continues to advocate for patient-to-staff ratios and bringing back intern programs.

“We need intern and extern programs back, many got rid of them in the last 5-10 years. This can help with recruiting new nurses in the pipeline; 2 or 5 years down the road it could be helpful.”

Nurses will continue to lead the way in solving the staffing crisis and being a voice for change in their industry as a whole through their Union.