Press Release

Nurses at Saint Louis University Hospital to hold rally to protest chronic understaffing

Three masked nurses inside hospital

RNs at SSM Saint Louis University Hospital deeply concerned about patient safety amidst alarming drop in RN hiring and retention

Registered nurses at SSM Saint Louis University Hospital will hold a rally on Friday, June 3 at 8:00 a.m. to voice their deep concerns about patient safety, chronic understaffing, and the alarming drop in the number of staff nurses hired by the facility, announced National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU).

Nurses are leaving due to the chronic understaffing situation at SLU Hospital. RNs have been assigned too many patients and are working without meal or rest breaks, which puts patients and nurses at risk for medical errors and injuries. Nurses do not want to jeopardize their nursing license by continuing to work in these unsafe conditions.

  • Who: Registered nurses at SSM Louis University Hospital
  • What: Lives in our Hands: Rally for Safe Staffing
  • Where: SSM Saint Louis University Hospital, 1201 S Grand Blvd., St Louis, MO 63110 (near the bus stop on Grand Blvd., near the hospital driveway)
  • When: Friday, June 3, 2022, 8:00 a.m.

Currently, there are more than 300 staff nurse vacancies at SLU Hospital. The facility now has a vacancy rate of more than 35 percent for nursing positions, a huge increase from the summer of 2021, when the vacancy rate was less than 10 percent. Union nurses at the facility have been raising concerns about staff RN recruitment since the fall of 2021. RNs say that decisions made by SLU Hospital administration have been detrimental to staff recruitment and retention, and therefore patient care. Despite the increasing number of vacancies, SLU Hospital has only onboarded 12 staff nurses over the past three months.

“Study after study show that lower staff turnover and safe nurse-to-patient ratios result in better patient outcomes,” said Maddi O’Leary, RN in the bone marrow transplant clinic. “Our nurses cannot provide optimal care for our patients if we are assigned too many patients. We are chronically short staffed, which is unsafe for patients. We need the hospital to invest in staffing.”

“The hospital keeps blaming conditions on an alleged nursing ‘shortage’ that doesn’t exist,” said Kellie Allen, RN in the cardiac step-down unit. “There are more than enough nurses with active licenses to fill hospital positions but not all of them are willing to work in increasingly dangerous conditions. If we had been able to retain all the nurses who left over the past year, we would not have the staffing crisis that we have now. The hospital needs to take a hard look at how to make nursing a more attractive and sustainable profession and how to retain its current staff. You don’t do that by ignoring and disrespecting your employees.”

Prior to and during the pandemic, the hospital’s policy was that nurses on medical-surgical floors should never take more than five patients. Now med-surg nurses are regularly assigned six patients each and sometimes seven. When nurses have too many patients, patients experience delays in care and unanswered call buttons. ICU nurses are being assigned up to three patients, which is dangerous as these critical patients need constant assessment and monitoring. ICU nurses should only be caring for one or two patients.

SLU Hospital administration has repeatedly rejected suggestions made by RNs to improve retention, morale, and safety. Overall staffing numbers continue to worsen, yet SSM recently cut extra shift incentives and overtime pay. On April 20, an overwhelming majority of staff nurses cast votes of "No Confidence" in the current administration, leading to the resignation of the director of human resources. Only 2.5 percent of nursing staff cast a vote of confidence in Chief Nursing Officer Rita Fowler, yet SLU Hospital President Steven Scott issued a statement reaffirming SSM's support of Fowler's leadership. The administration has not announced any plans to address the recruitment and retention concerns raised by nurses.

Nurses are demanding more action from SLU Hospital administration, including listening to nurses, offering real opportunities for improvement and retention, and recruiting experienced nurses, as well as new graduates, to provide a safe skill mix for patients.

NNOC/NNU currently represents 540 nurses at SSM Saint Louis University Hospital.

National Nurses Organizing Committee is affiliated with National Nurses United, the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the United States with more than 175,000 members nationwide.