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SLU Hospital nurses blame management for hiring and retention woes

SSM Health nurses protest outside St. Louis University Hospital on June 3, 2022.
Jenn Dean
SSM Health nurses protest outside St. Louis University Hospital on June 3.

Rita Reed said she was due to retire after 46 years working for SSM Health. Her decision to leave last month was in part based on issues she and her fellow nurses had with hospital management.

“There was some level of frustration as I watched the younger nurses as they were trying to push forward and maneuver through a lot of what I call ‘the dust,’” she said — a reference, she explained, to the chaos her colleagues deal with daily.

 Sarah DeWilde and Rita Reed worked together as registered nurses at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital. Reed retired in June.
Emily Woodbury
Sarah DeWilde and Rita Reed worked together as registered nurses at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital. Reed retired in June.

“So much is being thrown at them all at once,” Reed added.

The day she retired, June 3, her colleagues protested in front of SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital to raise awareness about working conditions at the hospital. They said that their departments are regularly understaffed and that hospital management has not done enough to address their concerns. They also would like to see management put more effort into hiring and retaining staff.

“Nurses know that it's hard work. Nurses are not running away from hard work; that's not the issue. The issue is the unnecessary stress that's placed on nurses,” Reed said. “Let's say, for example, you should have only four patients on an acute behavioral health unit, [but] you come in and you got five or six of them on a very acute psych unit. That poses a major safety problem.”

SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital nurses joined the National Nurses United union in 2012. They are currently bargaining for a contract set to be ratified in June 2023.

SSM Health RN Sarah DeWilde, who is the union steward for her unit, said conditions have not improved since their protest in June. She also said she anticipates a tough fight on the next contract.

“We have been giving [management], over months and even years, recommendations [regarding] what would make nurses happy, what would make nurses want to stay,” DeWilde said. “It’s not only compensation and things like that — we're talking just regular, everyday equipment needs: being able to have a bed that works … is a recommendation that would make my life a little bit easier. Having more techs at the bedside, having more sitters available whenever we have patients that are suicidal.”

In a statement provided to St. Louis on the Air, an SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital spokesperson called the complaints from DeWilde and her colleagues “counterproductive” and “erroneous.” The spokesperson said the hospital has engaged in a robust effort to fill open clinical staff positions.

SSM Health nurses push for change at SLU Hospital

“SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, like all other health care systems across the country, continues to face challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s critical shortage of nurses and health care professionals,” the statement said. “We provide competitive compensation, to include a recent increase to our graduate nurse salary and adjustments for experienced RNs, opportunities for career development and growth, and programs to support employee physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being.”

While DeWilde admitted that the hospital had increased some of its competitive wages, and that the COVID-related issues nurses deal with are universal, she emphasized that there are nurse retention and hiring problems specific to Saint Louis University Hospital.

“There's not a nursing shortage,” she said. “There are nurses that are willing to work, and they're willing to do the job. They're just not willing to do it in the instances that are current.”

Related Event
What: SLU Hospital Hiring Event
When: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. July 27 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 28
Where: MO-SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, 1201 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63104

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.