Press Release

Denver VA nurses to rally to protest staffing crisis due to hiring freeze

Large group of nurses outside smiling, some with raised fists, some holding signs "No Cuts: A Healthy VA = Healthy Vets"

Nurses say chronic short staffing jeopardizes patient safety

Nurses at Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center (RMR) in Aurora, Colorado, will hold a rally on Thursday, June 27, to protest the ongoing hiring freeze by the Department of Veteran Affairs and host a bake sale to raise money to hire nursing staff, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) today. Chronic short staffing at RMR is putting patient safety at risk, undermining the VA’s commitment to providing veterans with high-quality, integrated, specialized care that only the VA has the experience and expertise to provide.

RMR management has stated that 57 positions needed to be filled to meet the VA’s safe staffing standards. Nurses say nearly every unit at RMR is short-staffed, jeopardizing VA patient care.  In the intensive care unit (ICU), available beds have been cut from 18 to 12 due to the lack of nurses to staff them. Nurses in the ICU as well as the spinal cord injury and psychiatric units have been forced to care for too many patients, which is not safe for patients or nurses. In addition to persistent understaffing of nurses, there is short staffing of certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and techs, which means nurses are doing other people’s jobs as well.

“We have a staffing crisis because the VA is not filling dozens of vacant nurse positions,” said Sharda Fornnarino, RN in the float surgical unit at Rocky Mountain Regional. “Nurses are deeply concerned this will greatly affect the health outcomes of our veteran patients. In the ICU, nurses are caring for three patients instead of one or two patients. This is unsustainable and puts patient safety at risk.”

Who: Registered nurses at Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center
What: Outdoor rally to stop cuts toward veteran care
When: Thursday, June 27, 2024, 4-6 p.m.
Where: Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center 1700 N. Wheeling St., Aurora; on the south end of the facility, across the street in front of the IHOP.

The nurses urge the Department of Veteran Affairs to end the hiring freeze and stop any attempts toward privatization. Union nurses are demanding that the VA:

  • Lift the hiring freeze immediately, post open positions, and fill staff vacancies for nurses and other positions
  • Ensure that veterans receive safe and therapeutic care by providing safe staffing in critical care and mental health units
  • Stop cutting vital services for veterans and staff all beds in the ICU and spinal cord injury unit.

“If nurses leave, regardless of the reason — transfers, retirements, or resignations, we fear that those positions will not be filled,” said Tonia Naverud, RN in the ambulatory care unit at RMR. “We are already stretched too thin, so units that are already short-staffed, will be even more short, making it impossible to give veterans the care they need and deserve.”

RMR nurses aren’t alone. On June 6, nurses from VA medical centers around the country held a protest at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., to demand that the VA lift the hiring freeze, citing 66,000 staff vacancies and safety concerns. As NNU noted at the time, “studies continue to highlight the high-quality care that veterans receive through the VA, a difference that can mean life or death. A study published last December found that veterans who were hospitalized in the VA system had significantly lower 30-day mortality for heart failure and stroke compared with those in non-VA facilities. A 2022 study found that mortality rates are far lower for veterans who are treated in VA emergency rooms than for veterans who are treated in other hospitals.”

“We need to honor our veterans’ service and sacrifices by giving them the quality care that the VA can provide, but we can’t do that if we don’t have enough nurses and support staff,” said Fornnarino.

The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing shows that, in Colorado and across the country, there is no “shortage” of nurses. In fact, in Colorado, there may be more than 30,000 RNs with active licenses who are not working as nurses in the state, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and NCSBN National Nursing Database. Nationwide, there may be more than a million registered nurses with active licenses who are choosing not to work at the bedside because of the hospital industry’s unsafe working conditions. More data and information debunking the nurse “shortage” myth can be found here.

National Nurses Organizing Committee represents more than 800 nurses at Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center.

National Nurses Organizing Committee is an affiliate of National Nurses United, the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the United States with nearly 225,000 members nationwide. NNU affiliates also include California Nurses Association, DC Nurses Association, Michigan Nurses Association, Minnesota Nurses Association, and New York State Nurses Association.