Providence, RI - Lynn Blais, R.N., President of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP), the state’s largest healthcare union, representing more than 7,000 nurses and health professionals, issued a statement today in regards to the approaching October 1 mandatory vaccine deadline for Rhode Island’s healthcare workers and the current staffing shortage in the healthcare field.
“First, we want to reiterate our support for the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in Rhode Island. UNAP members have been on the frontlines fighting the COVID-19 pandemic since day one, and no one has witnessed the massive toll it has taken on Rhode Islanders more so than we have. We’ve seen the outcomes – loneliness, physical and mental health struggles, death and despair for far too many people, including our members. We support this mandate because this is a public health issue and Rhode Islanders who need healthcare services should expect to be safe in health facilities. The vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective, and getting as many Rhode Islanders vaccinated as possible is the only way we will end this pandemic and get back to some sense of normalcy. Our members – the nurses and health professionals who have risked our health and our lives in service of others – are physically and mentally exhausted, and the current path we are on is not sustainable. We have the tools to end this pandemic – and we owe it to all Rhode Islanders to use them.
We have been asked how we reconcile our position in support of the vaccine mandate with staffing issues that may arise due to the termination of healthcare workers who refuse the vaccine. We want to be clear – staffing shortages in the healthcare field, especially among nurses, have been a problem that began long before this pandemic started. As a union, we are the ones who have called attention to this issue time and again, and we will continue to do so. The root cause of the staffing shortage is simple – hospital management putting profits before patient care. When hospitals are run to make a profit for shareholders and executives, that means bare-bones staffing levels, with no flexibility for leaves of absence, vacancies, or worker illness.
For years, nurses and health professionals have been expected to do more with less – less help, less equipment and less supplies. The end result is an extremely high level of stress, burnout and staff resignation, along with fewer and fewer people choosing healthcare as a viable career choice. The pandemic did not cause this problem, but has exacerbated it even further.
It is not the job of nurses and health professionals to properly staff hospitals – it’s our job to provide quality care for our patients. Staffing is the job of hospital administrators. We are calling for immediate, short-term solutions and sustainable, long-term solutions that will create a healthcare infrastructure that can withstand this pandemic and future pandemics or other health crises. That means healthcare companies, hospital executives and administrators investing more in their facilities, equipment, patients, employees and frontline nurses and health professionals. They must create a staffing environment where healthcare workers and patients feel safe, and aren’t spread so thin. To accomplish this, they must provide reasonable compensation packages and working conditions for healthcare workers that take into consideration the difficulty and skill level required of these jobs. They must create proper training, recruitment and retention programs that make workers want to continue in this profession. In short, the staffing issues will not be solved until hospital management makes a sustained commitment to putting quality patient care at the center of their healthcare universe.”