Superior, Duluth nurses speak on final day of strike
The three-day strike continued Wednesday with pickets outside downtown Duluth hospitals and outside Essentia St. Mary's in Superior.
DULUTH — Nurses at Twin Ports hospitals continued picketing Wednesday, on the third and final day of the Minnesota Nurses Association strike over contract negotiations.
Nurses are asking hospitals to listen to their pleas to increase staffing and retain nurses. For the three days of the strike, Essentia and St. Luke's hired nurses temporarily to fill roles of nurses on strike. Chris Rubesch, MNA first vice president and a nurse at Essentia in Duluth, said it's frustrating to see staff brought in now, but not when they previously asked hospitals to increase staffing.
"If they could do what they're doing right now tomorrow, this contract could be settled," Rubesch said. "If they could just continue to staff the hospital, then I think we'd have no problem. We certainly are glad that our patients continue to get care and we're really happy to return to the bedside tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. to do that job."
Outside Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, several nurses shared testimonies of their experiences at the Superior location of Essentia St. Mary's. Ashley Schwanangel said patients seen in the last two years have been sicker than ever before, and many need specialty care across the bridge in Duluth. Schwanangel and Jessica Stoltman said despite patient volumes and needs increasing, staff levels haven't changed, leaving nurses unable to provide the acute care patients need.
"If there is an acute issue with a full floor, it could take all the nurses from multiple patients away to just one patient with little or no help from anyone as we do not have a float pool," Stoltman said, noting that the only doctor for the medical-surgical floor in Superior is an on-call doctor in Duluth they can consult.
Numerous studies have shown low staffing numbers among nurses lead to more errors and higher morbidity and mortality rates for patients. In addition, it can be dangerous for nurses, who do not have adequate help — especially in cases of workplace violence.
Samantha Peterson, an emergency room nurse who works nights in Superior, suffered a traumatic brain injury earlier this year when she was assaulted by a patient.
"I still suffer from headaches and I have aphasia that leaves me with a disconnect between my brain and my mouth sometimes, so my words don't come out right," Peterson said.
Cindy Seguin, a nurse at St. Luke's in Duluth, said the strike has been a way to bring awareness to the dire situations in local hospitals, and the outpouring of community support this week has helped her see that people are listening to them and their frustrations. She hopes these concerns are heard at the negotiating table with St. Luke's when contract discussions reconvene.
Rubesch and Larissa Hubbartt, a chair on the MNA St. Luke's negotiating team, said good progress was made in bargaining sessions last weekend, but hospital management from both health care systems left the meetings before they came to any agreements. Upcoming negotiation meetings were in the scheduling process as of Wednesday afternoon. St. Luke's and Essentia have continuously urged MNA teams to agree to mediation.