Nurses picket at VA hospital to highlight staffing concerns

Protestors gather at the VA Hospital in Little Rock to highlight staffing concerns. (KATV Photo)

Around two-dozen nurses gathered to picket outside the Little Rock VA Hospital Monday morning—working to get the attention of commuters, patients, and the VA administration.

This following a complaint filed with multiple government agencies alleging understaffing is causing safety concerns. Today, protestors chanted, “safe staffing now.”

Nurse Betsy Harrison echoed their cries saying the hospital can do better, “Because it’s a wonderful place. We care for our veterans. Our veterans are our nation’s heroes. It’s an honor.”

The nurses are playing this out publicly because they say a year of back and forth with the administration is not producing any changes: “We’re hoping the management is hearing us this time. We have asked, we have begged.”

Local AFGE President Barbara Casanova says the short-staffing is causing a chain reaction of safety issues: “We’re very worried that something could go wrong. We’re worried for our veterans; we made a promise when we went to nursing school that we would keep our patients safe… We have even more of a promise to keep our veterans safe.”

They’re encouraged by the plan the VA released on Friday, and pleased by the turnout for this past weekend’s job fair. But say, it will take a while for the changes to effect. In the meantime, they want to see more safe guards: “We want our licenses protected. We want our patients protected.”

Deputy medical director Salena Wright-Brown says they hear these concerns and are working to implement new programs as fast they can. In addition, they are contracting with supplemental staff and with the VA travel nurses’ corps.

"Safety and veteran care is our only priority," explains Wright-Brown. "It's the only reason we exist. We're going to continue, we're going to continue working together. We're all after the same thing: To give the best back to the nation's heroes."

Channel 7 asked the deputy medical director: If the staffing deficit is getting larger, why was this weekend the first time they’ve tried a job fair? Wright-Brown says they’ve sent recruiters to ten external events over the past year and a half, but those have not seen as much of a response. 350 candidates turned out for this weekend’s job fair.

The VA administration highlighted these programs during our interview, as ways they are addressing the staffing shortage, and problems stemming from it:

  • Pulling guidelines: Created through the shared governance structure—with the input of bedside nurses—to mandate the safest and most efficient practices in this area.
  • Roving Operational Team Care: Nurses/Clincial support will “rove” on a unit to take pressure/strain off of a unit during a particular time of a day.
  • Agency contract for nurse supplemental staffing
  • VA travel nurse corps to supplement staff
  • Participated in 7 external recruitment events so far in 2017, 3 external events in 2016
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