Those Heroic Nurses Need More Help

Biggest issue in strikes is staffing, Lydia Polgreen writes
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 18, 2023 4:09 PM CST
For Nurses, the Problem Is Staffing
Protesters march on the streets around Montefiore Medical Center during a nursing strike last Wednesday in the Bronx borough of New York.   (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Nurses were praised and universally thanked for their work early in the pandemic—applauded nightly in New York, for example, in a show of support for essential health care workers, per NPR. But the appreciation and the pizza didn't last, and nurses remain shortchanged and taken for granted, Lydia Polgreen writes in an opinion piece in the New York Times. "Like workers in other female-dominated professions in the care economy, nurses are spoken of, often with a whiff of condescension, as heroes," she writes. "But just like teachers, social workers, health aides, day care workers and mothers, we sure don't treat them that way."

Across the US, nurses are quitting, burned out on the profession. Many have gone on strike, but their main issue isn't pay or benefits—it's staffing. They want the industry to establish reasonable patients-to-nurses ratios, in the interest of safety, for the patients and the nurses. A three-day strike in New York last week did win improved staffing. There's no minimum staffing requirement now, Polgreen writes, outside of California, and many employees say nurses are way overloaded. Studies have found that increases the patient's chance of dying, in addition to driving nurses away. Change is needed, Polgreen says, starting with valuing and investing in nursing. Gabriel Winant, a labor historian, told her, "The only way in our society people get access to care is: one, a woman does it for free through the family; or two, an industry figures out how to make money off of it." (The full piece can be found here.)

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