Nurses in Wichita and Austin demand Ascension address dual crises of workplace violence and short staffing
Rally and bargaining update following historic strikes
Nurses at Ascension hospitals in Wichita, Kansas and Austin, Texas are demanding that Ascension, the multi-billion dollar health care giant, make contractual commitments to address the dual crises of workplace violence and short staffing, which are threatening patient care at the chain’s hospitals, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU).
On Thursday, August 31, nurses at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis and Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph in Wichita, Kansas will hold a rally and nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas will make themselves available to provide a bargaining update, the first since the end of the 1-day strike and 3-day lockout in June.
“Again and again, we have seen Ascension formulate race-to-the-bottom strategies, such as placing patients in the hallway, instead of doing the right thing by staffing appropriately,” said Lindsay Spinney, RN and member of the bargaining team at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin. “Right now as Ascension is building a new women's services tower, we are watching management inappropriately staff our perinatal units in a way that threatens to undermine the safety of our patients.”
- Who: Nurses as Ascension Via Christi St. Francis and Ascension Via Christi Joseph in Wichita, Kansas
- What: Bargaining update & rally to demand Ascension address dual crises of workplace violence and short staffing
- When: Thursday, August 31, from 8 am to 9 am
- Where: Ascension Via Christi St. Francis 929 St Francis, Wichita, Kansas
- Who: Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin
- What: Bargaining update & media availability
- When: Thursday, August 31, from 8:30 am to 9:30 am
- Where: 310 E. 5th Street, Austin, Texas
Nurses in Wichita say they are extremely disappointed that Ascension has failed to address the workplace violence issues that put both staff and patients at risk on a daily basis. Some of these incidents of violence were so egregious they garnered media attention.
“The nurses have put forward simple solutions, such as fixing broken doors that do not lock and staffing entry points with appropriate personnel who can screen visitors,” said Laura Day, RN at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis and a member of the bargaining team. “While administrators say they will act on these proposals, these simple steps have not been implemented. The hospital has a moral obligation to keep staff and patients safe, but they are failing to do the bare minimum.”
Wichita nurses also charge that Ascension is unduly surveilling nurses through the use of artificial intelligence software. The use of these software algorithms have led to investigations of nurses, some of whom have been unjustly disciplined.
“Nurses must have the ability to use their clinical judgment and expertise at the bedside,” said Courtney Callum, RN in the emergency department at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph. “Computer software does not take into account the human experience of the actual patient. Nurses should not be judged by an artificial intelligence system based on big data, but rather on their expertise at the bedside.”
Nurses in Austin say they were appalled when Ascension instituted a new policy that led to patients being left in the hallways for up to an hour as crews cleaned their rooms. Ascension put the policy in place to avoid adequate staffing of both cleaning crews and nurses who could assist with discharges.
“We were absolutely appalled when Ascension forced our patients, many bedbound and frail, into the hallways to wait for a bed instead of hiring more nurses,” said Taylor Critendon, RN and member of the RN Bargaining Team at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin. “Ascension’s own mission statement claims that they are ‘dedicated to spiritually-centered, holistic care, which sustains and improves the health of individuals and communities.’ Well, let me ask you, do you think lying in a bed in the hallway without the dignity of privacy and in view of anyone walking by is in line with spiritually centered holistic care? It is obvious that it is not.”
A snapshot of Ascension’s financials show that, despite Ascension’s stated benevolent mission and non-profit status, it acts like a for-profit corporation putting dollars over patient care:
- $19.5 billion: cash reserved by Ascension as of June 2022
- $5.7 billion: Ascension’s net income in 2021
- $13 million: Ascension CEO’s compensation package in 2021
- $41 billion: managed by Ascension’s investment arm as of 2021
- $1 billion: value of Ascension’s private equity operation
- 1.9: percent of operating expenses that go to charity care, far below the 2.6 percent that is the national average
Ascension is the second-largest Catholic nonprofit health system in the country. In fiscal year 2021, Ascension reported a net income of more than $5.7 billion, and the system’s CEO took home a compensation package worth more than $13 million.
National Nurses Organizing Committee represents more than 900 nurses at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin, 650 nurses at Ascension via Christi St. Francis Hospital (Wichita), and 300 nurses at Ascension via Christi St. Joseph Hospital (Wichita).
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.