Jennifer Velarde has worked as a nurse for 28 years, including three at Corpus Christi Medical Center. The current staffing shortage at the hospital is the most severe she’s seen in her decades of experience, she said.
As a night shift nurse in the emergency department, Velarde has seen nurses assigned to as many as eight patients in a shift, which is double the 1-to-4 nurse-to-patient staffing ratio recommended by National Nurses United, the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in the US
“We have a lot of new nurses that are coming in that are very scared due to the quantity of patients per nurse that we’re having to take care of,” Velarde said.
Velarde helped organize a protest last week in which nurses decried understaffing and a high turnover rate at Corpus Christi Medical Center.
Citing the hospital’s reports, National Nurses United said in a news release that more than 120 registered nurses left CCMC in the last two quarters. The number includes seasoned RNs and new graduates, the union said.
Corpus Christi Medical Center is not the only chronically understaffed hospital. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many nurses quit the field or became COVID-19 crisis travel nurses for increased pay, Velarde said. Nurses are often floated to some of the medical center’s sister hospitals, including Doctors Regional, ER 24/7 Northwest and ER 24/7 Portland.
“Like all hospitals, we face the challenges of a national nursing shortage,” CCMC said in a statement. “We are focused on recruiting, training, and promoting our clinical teams to maintain the high-quality care we’re known for. We believe our staffing levels are appropriate and are consistent with national standards.”
The statement listed the hospital’s awards and accolades, including its Level II Trauma Center designation and national honors for safety and surgical excellence. The hospital is an affiliate of HCA Healthcare, which has been named to Ethisphere’s Most Ethical Companies for 12 years, the statement said.
A spokesman for the hospital said CCMC and the union reached an agreement, including compensation, in 2021, and that the hospital is complying with the deal. The next contract negotiation will happen in 2024.
The nurses argued that the hospital’s failure to invest in recruitment and retention of staff could negatively impact the quality of patient care.
“When you have a little more time with your patients, you’re able to sit down and actually internalize and hear their concerns,” Velarde said. “We do our best, like not rushing through patients or anything, but we want to be able to communicate back to them and educate them.”
Velarde said the nurses have taken their concerns up the chain of command but received no response.
“It’s very disheartening to the newer nurses that come in and are trying but they feel like they’re up against a wall and they have no resources to reach out to except for the few of us who are still sticking it out and trying to make better for these people,” Velarde said. “We have talked and talked and talked to management, and it falls on deaf ears.”
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Ashlee Burns covers trending and breaking news in South Texas. See our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe.