Hospital workers are calling on federal and state regulators to step in to protect employees and patients from issues caused by short-staffing at Loretto Hospital, Northwestern Memorial and other Chicago area medical centers.
Members of SEIU Healthcare Illinois rallied at the headquarters of the Joint Commission for Accreditation for Hospital Organizations to demand that the regulatory nonprofit evaluate staffing levels in its accreditation process.
Though the issue has been worsened by the pandemic, staff shortages have been a longstanding problem at hospitals that have strained workers and lowered the quality of care for patients, workers said. When hospitals are understaffed, “patients are more likely to suffer from certain outcomes including hospital-acquired infections,” said Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois.
“They do not consider the serious consequences of short-staffing in their evaluation criteria,” Kelley said. “By failing to recognize this problem… they are risking lives.”
The Joint Commission should not be giving its seal of approval to hospitals that don’t have enough certified nursing assistants, technicians, housekeepers and other workers to keep patients safe, said Jackie Craig, a housekeeping worker at Loretto Hospital.
“I can do my best at my job, but I cannot do the jobs of three, four or five people,” Craig said.
Each day there are several patients in the emergency room waiting hours to be admitted because there isn’t enough staff to prepare the hospital rooms quickly enough, Craig said.
“That’s an awful feeling knowing a person is sitting in pain. They’re waiting for me to do my job. But I can only do so much as one person,” Craig said.
The Joint Commission needs to develop a standard for all medical centers since the issue impacts all hospitals. Loretto is “always short on funding because we’re a safety-net hospital,” but even well-funded university medical centers struggle with staff shortages, Craig said.
Staff shortages at Northwestern caused patient care technician Yolanda Stewart to be injured and unable to work for months, she said. A bedridden patient was in “extreme discomfort” and needed to be lifted and turned, but there were no other employees available to assist Stewart, she said.
“Because we were so short-staffed, I ended up having to do it all by myself. I ended up injuring my back,” Stewart said.
The pandemic has “brought critical attention to the need for more trained healthcare workers to meet patient demand and to reduce turnover,” said Joint Comission President Dr. Jonathan B. Perlin in a statement. The organization acknowledged staffing levels are an important factor in quality of care and patient outcomes, but did not commit to evaluating staffing levels as part of its accreditation process.
“Staffing is a critical and complex issue that The Joint Commission takes very seriously. There is not a one-size-fits-all or immediate solution, especially in the context of ensuring access to patients in need with an ongoing workforce shortage,” Perlin said.