At hospital where nurse called 911, 'zero candidates interviewing' for ED roles, says president

After staffing issues prompted a nurse at Silverdale, Wash.-based St. Michael Medical Center to call 911 on her own emergency department, representatives for the hospital are speaking publicly about staffing in that department and other issues related to the facility, the Kitsap Sun reported Nov. 3.  

Representatives for St. Michael, which is part of Tacoma, Wash.-based Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, spoke during the Central Kitsap Community Council meeting Nov. 2. 

During the meeting, representatives gave a presentation acknowledging that "even though COVID numbers are no longer at critical levels, along with other healthcare providers, here in Kitsap County we are still navigating" capacity challenges, staffing demand and financial stress. 

St. Michael President Chad Melton told the council that the hospital employs about 180 contract workers and is hiring for about 300 total positions, according to the Kitsap Sun. The newspaper also reported that St. Michael also increased pay rates to try to recruit traveling nurses.

"…We are short-staffed on various nights," he said, according to the Kitsap Sun. "No one is debating that. That's what we're working towards, to try to fill those gaps. The emergency department specifically, zero candidates interviewing. Zero."

Additionally, the presentation at the council meeting highlighted emergency department wait times and acuity levels. The presentation states that 72 percent of patients who visited the emergency department on their own were in a treatment room 27 minutes after arrival. It also states that emergent patients transported to the emergency department by emergency medical services waited for an average of six minutes. The numbers are based on data over a 12-month period that ended Aug. 31.

"Sometimes if your seriousness of your condition, your acuity, is lower, you may wait longer, because other people with higher acuity illnesses go through faster," David Weiss, MD, associate chief medical officer of St. Michael, said, according to the Kitsap Sun

Kelsay Irby, RN, the emergency room nurse who called 911 in October, also spoke during the Central Kitsap Community Council meeting about her concerns related to staffing.

"I know that I speak for myself and several co-workers that when we leave at the end of the day going, I honestly don't even know if it's worth it," she said, according to the Kitsap Sun. "It's not just about the money. It is about going into healthcare to be able to take care of you guys [the public]. When we can't do that, when we go home at the end of our shift and feel like we failed you because we are not heard by our management, there’s no words."

The remarks during the recent council meeting come as UFCW 3000, which represents St. Michael Medical Center workers, is circulating a petition over the staffing issues that led to the October 911 call and other concerns about infection control, payroll errors and building maintenance. The petition calls for the resignation of both President Chad Melton and Chief Nursing Officer Jeanell Rasmussen, RN, citing "years of ineffective response" to issues at St. Michael. 

"Our community has been advocating for a safe hospital for years as workers repeatedly sound the alarm on the serious issues plaguing St. Michael Medical Center," the petition states. "Unfortunately, after years of ineffective response, and after workers have had to repeatedly report their concerns to hospital leadership through committee meetings, contract negotiations, and very publicly through picketing, media and outreach to legislative officials, the healthcare workers' pleas have been met with empty promises as the situation continues to deteriorate."

In an email to Becker's, Anna Minard, a spokesperson for UFCW 3000, contends that management should ask why people are not interviewing for jobs at the hospital and what they can do to change the situation at St. Michael.

"I know we would say that should begin with replacing Chad Melton and Jeanell Rasmussen so that existing staff, potential recruits and the community see that there's real accountability for these failures and staffing problems, and that Virginia Mason Franciscan Health is ready to start fresh with new leadership who can meet these challenges and listen to front-line workers," she said. 

Virginia Mason Franciscan said on its website: "We're doing everything we can to alleviate those challenges at SMMC by listening to our staff and community, redoubling our recruitment and workforce development efforts, and paying our nursing staff some of the highest rates in the state, as well as utilizing traveler nurses to fill vacancies. We know we still have work to do, and we’re committed to doing it."

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