ST. PETERSBURG — When nurses at Northside Hospital wave picket signs this morning to protest staffing levels, the sight may look familiar.
Earlier this week, nurses at Largo Medical Center staged a similar protest. And last month, another group rallied outside Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville.
Nurses at the three hospitals, all owned by the for-profit HCA health care chain, voted within the past year to affiliate with the National Nurses Organizing Committee-Florida, part of the 170,000-member National Nurses United.
Now the union is taking their complaints to the public. Specifics vary by facility, but the demonstrations are centered around safety and staffing concerns.
Since January, Northside nurses have filed more than 70 complaints with managers and the union, alleging inadequate staffing in critical care areas and the emergency room.
"We feel the care for the patients is being compromised," said Yvonne Miksza, a Northside critical care nurse. "I can't spend the time that I need to be able to teach and educate the patient, so they don't come in for the same problem over and over."
Emergency room nurse Mike Bechard said that when critically ill patients arrive, others don't get the attention they should.
"All (the nurses) want is for the staffing to be where it should be, or increased, so we're not being crushed," he said.
Like colleagues at Largo Medical and Oak Hill, Northside nurses asked the hospital to create a task force of bedside nurses to develop solutions. But they say management rejected the idea, prompting the protest.
Officials at Northside Hospital say patient care won't be affected by the demonstration, which is scheduled for 7 to 8:30 a.m. in front of the 49th Street entrance.
"As bargaining moves ahead, we will continue to provide uninterrupted, high-quality health care to our patients and the community we serve," the hospital said in a statement, echoing the response of the other local HCA hospitals. Northside noted that it has been negotiating with the union over a contract since April.
Union organizers at these hospitals and eight others that have joined the Florida operation in the past year are beginning to discuss their next steps.
National Nurses Organizing Committee-Florida collectively bargains on behalf of 6,000 nurses at 14 hospitals statewide, the majority owned by HCA. But union leaders say they're not targeting the chain. They have another 1,200 members that don't work at hospitals where the union is active. Many of these nurses are lobbying for a state law that would set nurse-to-patient staffing levels.
"There's power in numbers," said Mary Fentress, a nurse and union member who retired from St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg two years ago. "Things that you can't get accomplished as an individual you can get accomplished in numbers."
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8330.