With the looming tower of her employer rising behind her, Annale Yobbi stood in a corner of Allegheny Commons Park on Tuesday and discussed a nursing crisis she said has been years in the making. Health care CEOs and insurance executives have focused on money rather than people, she said.
The result: Staffing shortages that are burning out many of her colleagues, said Yobbi, a flight nurse at Allegheny General Hospital. Nurses, she said, have reached a breaking point. The problem is not unique to Pittsburgh — it’s happening across the country.
Yobbi said she and her fellow union members are determined to solve this and other problems plaguing the nursing profession through the bargaining process. AGH nurses, represented by SEIU Healthcare, are in the process of negotiating a new contract with Allegheny Health Network.
To build energy and support for that effort, union nurses and their supporters — about 200 people in all — gathered for a rally Tuesday at Allegheny Commons Park, across from the hospital. Yobbi, a member of the union’s bargaining committee, was one of the first to address the crowd. She said the nurses are after more than just wage increases.
“We are seeking fundamental changes in how our hospitals approach nursing, so the focus is put back on patients rather than profits,” she said. “For months, my co-workers and I have been in negotiations with the hospital management to reach a contract that makes the investment in nurse pay and staffing that will address the root cause of the staffing crisis and keep nurses at the bedside.
“We are calling for a contract with significant investment to recruit new nurses and keep mid-career and senior nurses at the bedside. And we are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve those investments.”
Below are some of the highlights of the rally.
Every day we come to work for 12 hours, we walk through those doors behind me, and we put all of our personal problems aside so we can focus on providing essential patient care, because if we are not focused and attentive and quick thinking, if we do not advocate for our patients, we know our patients are at risk of bad outcomes.
Nurses deserve a decent fair wage, we deserve to be able to pay back those college loans, because we are now encouraged to get bachelor’s and master’s and doctoral degrees, incurring even greater debt. We deserve the opportunity to save for a house, to pay for a car that can get us to work and to actually afford health insurance for our families and children.
— Nurse practitioner Jennette Hannah
We all know we have decisions and moments that happen in our life where we have to make choices. And those choices create moments that start to shape who we are as people and define us.
For AGH, this is one of their moments. This is their defining moment. This is their opportunity to distinguish and separate themselves from their competitors in the health care space. This is the opportunity not to follow their [competitors’] trends but to trail blaze trends of their own and force their competitors to follow them. That’s what real leadership looks like.
— State Rep. Aerion Abney, who represents the 19th District
Know that as these corporations make their budgets, they are making a moral document and they are choosing what matters and if they want to choose to care for their patients, if they want to be the best hospital in the region if they want to choose to care for what matters, they’ll invest in you because you matter. And the work you do matters.
— The Rev. Steven Werth of Community House Church
You heard earlier that more than 90% of nurses have thought about leaving. I don’t want to imagine our hospitals if even 20% of you left. We cannot let that happen. Nurses deserve the compensation, staffing and resources they need to keep themselves and their patients safe. It only makes sense. Because taking care of nurses is taking care of our neighborhoods.
— The Rev. Leeann Younger, Cityview Church