Ascension nurses in Texas protest staffing levels

Nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas, are holding an informational picket April 6 to protest current staffing levels amid contract negotiations. 

The hospital's nurses voted to unionize in September and have been in contract negotiations for their first year with the National Nurses Organizing Committee — an affiliate of National Nurses United — since November. 

More than 900 nurses have joined, making Ascension Seton Medical Center the largest private-sector hospital in Texas to form a union, according to an April 5 news release from the NNU. 

"The care and well-being of our patients is the most important goal as we negotiate our first contract," Lara Kettler, RN, an intensive care unit nurse at the hospital, said in the news release. "We know that for our patients to get optimal care we need safe staffing with strong teams of nurses who can advocate without fear of reprisal for their patients" 

The nurses report chronic short staffing at the hospital, which hinders patient care. New graduates are hired to fill the gaps, but leave after they are trained due to "moral distress" at the bedside, per the union's release. 

St. Louis-based Ascension told Becker's it respects the union's right to hold an informational assembly outside the hospital, and that the health system is utilizing its workforce development program to focus on nurse recruitment and retention. 

"We continue to bargain in good faith to reach a mutually beneficial agreement on our RN contract," a spokesperson for Ascension told Becker's. "When bargaining an initial collective bargaining agreement, it is a longer process due to having to negotiate all terms of the contract, and based on data, can take well over a year to complete. Our ongoing goal is to support all of our associates in a just and equitable manner as we continue to provide safe, compassionate care to those we are privileged to serve."

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