Nurse who called EMS on own hospital speaks out 

The nurse who called emergency services in response to staffing issues at Silverdale, Wash.-based St. Michael Medical Center spoke out about her decision and the events leading up to the call in a Nov. 8 opinion piece for Nurse.org.

Kelsay Irby, RN, has been an emergency department charge nurse at the hospital for less than a year. On Oct. 8 — the night Ms. Irby called emergency services for help — the ED was operating at less than 50 percent of its ideal staffing grid. Among the nearly 50 people in the hospital's waiting room were patients with cardiac or respiratory issues and children with high fevers — "all patients that made us very nervous to have in the lobby, unmonitored for extended periods of time," Ms. Irby wrote. 

The ED had one first-look nurse on the clock who was trying to keep up with patients checking in and could not supervise those waiting for care. After exhausting all other available options, Ms. Irby said she called emergency services' nonemergent line and asked the dispatcher if any crews were available to help ED staff. Ms. Irby was connected with a local fire chief who sent an emergency services crew to the hospital to monitor patients in the lobby, retake their vitals and do roll calls to ensure the ED team's patient list was accurate. 

Ms. Irby's actions made national headlines as a dramatic example of the staffing issues hospitals nationwide are facing. 

"I didn’t recognize the impact of what I was doing that night," Ms. Irby wrote. "I was simply working my way down the list of possible sources of help for my coworkers and ultimately our patients."

"People ask, would I make that call again, knowing what I know now about the aftermath and its effect on public, personal and professional levels?" she continued. "And my answer is an unhesitating, resounding yes. Because along with all the other things we as nurses are taught, the number one thing we do, that we internalize on a level most cannot understand, is advocate for our patients, to use our voice and our leverage when they have none, no matter what it might cost us."

Leaders from St. Michael Medical Center, part of Tacoma, Wash.-based Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, acknowledged the hospital's ongoing staffing issues during the Central Kitsap Community Council meeting Nov. 2. St. Michael President Chad Melton told the council that the hospital employs about 180 contract workers and is seeking to fill about 300 total positions, according to the Kitsap Sun. St. Michael also increased pay rates to try to recruit traveling nurses, according to the publication.

"Turnover at St. Michael for healthcare staff is well under the national average, and RN turnover at St. Michael is lower today than it was throughout COVID-19. We believe this is a testament to our ongoing efforts to recruit and retain staff, as we actively hire for full-time, part-time and as-needed employees," a hospital spokesperson told Nurse.org.

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