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Nurses Sound Alarm on Staffing Crisis at Milwaukee County's Behavioral Health, Demand Immediate Action from the County Executive

For Immediate Release              Contact: Debra Kosloske
May 21, 2014                                               414-218-4663

Nurses Sound Alarm on Staffing Crisis at Milwaukee County’s Behavioral Health
Demand Immediate Action from the County Executive

Milwaukee, Wis. – At 1pm today, on the front steps of the Courthouse, dozens of Milwaukee County Mental Health nurses and frontline staff stood up for their patients speaking out to protest unsafe staffing. The nurses demanded that County Executive Abele take immediate action to fill the dozens of RN and Nursing Assistant vacancies, and put an end to the dangerous and widespread practice of forcing nursing staff to work massive amounts of involuntary overtime. The nurses also presented the County Executive with a petition, signed by over a hundred workers, which included a list of 10 corrective actions; and, demanded he take immediate action to correct the unsafe staffing, including reducing the hospital census until such time adequate staff is hired and trained to care for patients with severe mental illness.

The nurses met with Abele on April 10th to tell him how unsafe the hospital had become and presented him with a list of actions that needed to be taken to ensure the safety of the staff and the patients. On May 1st Abele also received written communication from Local 5001 President, Jeff Weber, R.N., which listed eight specific actions that would improve the dangerous conditions; but, as of today, no response has been received, either to the meeting or the letter. “Each and every day the staff at BHD do amazing work under dangerous and unsafe conditions. As the frontline caregivers, we are calling upon the County Executive to take immediate action to ensure the safety of the patients and staff,” said Jeff Weber, R.N.

Weber explained, “The number of nurses and nursing assistants leaving the mental health center has reached epidemic numbers, made significantly worse by grossly inadequate recruiting practices. A simple retention bonus is not the answer, as we see nurses quitting before they even begin.”

Forced overtime has also reached epidemic levels with hundreds of RNs and nursing assistants forced to work a second eight-hour shift after they finish their scheduled shift. Mandatory overtime has been outlawed in many hospitals because it has been linked with medical errors, hospital infections and patient falls—all things that cost lives. Jeff Weber, RN, went on to say, “It’s unconscionable that the County Executive has done nothing to prevent this staffing problem from reaching this crisis level.”

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The Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals (WFNHP) represents over 3,000 registered nurses and other health professionals in public, private and federal employment throughout the state of Wisconsin, including the nurses and therapists employed by Milwaukee County. WFNHP is a division of AFT Healthcare, which represents more than 112,000 healthcare professionals, including 84,000 RNs.

A Union of Professionals