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UCHealth workers launch union and highlight growing staffing concerns and burnout

Posted at 7:17 AM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 09:17:25-05

DENVER — UCHealth employees have unionized in hopes of sparking change in hospitals they claim are severely understaffed and impacting patient care.

On Tuesday, UCHealth employees launched UCHealth Workers United. The union is run by employees and aims to give healthcare workers a platform to voice their concerns with support from fellow employees.

Alex Wolf-Root is the President of Communications Workers of America, a national union representing more than 40,000 healthcare workers.

The union is helping guide UCHealth United Workers.

"Colorado law does not require that public employers collectively bargain or recognize unions," Wolf-Root said. "But that doesn't in any way, shape, or form take away the power of workers to join together and demand real change."

Denver7 spoke with three registered nurses and a CNA with UCHealth. They all asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. They pulled back the curtain and raised concerns over staffing, patient care and employee burnout.

One nurse says the pandemic has exacerbated daily struggles. She says her workload increased and feels everything else is falling short, "less resources, less support, less nurses."

An intensive care unit nurse at UCHealth describes his duties, at times, as overwhelming.

"We've had nights where we've been short up to a dozen ICU nurses in the hospital," the ICU nurse said.

Every nurse Denver7 spoke with raised concerns about adequate patient care when resources are strained despite every ounce of effort to provide the best care they can.

"You're supposed to only have four patients… I've even had up to six," the ICU nurse said. "I can't take their vitals as frequently as I should. I can't get them to the bathroom and cleaned up, which could lead to falls."

The ICU nurse admitted he worries someone may lose their life because nurses are overwhelmed by the number of patients.

"It’s a very real worry, I go home and it plagues me,” he said.

UCHealth released a statement reading in part, "throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting and protecting our employees has been our top priority." It goes on to say, "We have redeployed many staff members from other areas and brought in external traveler nurses to help support our inpatient care teams while providing free meals for those on all shifts and offering well-being and many other resources," the statement read.

"They (travel nurses) are temporary," a nurse said. "What we really need is staff who will stay there for a long time. Staff turnover is a big issue."

In 2020, for the ninth year in a row, UCHealth was named the number one hospital in the state.

Another nurse says he's frustrated and has voiced his concern only to be met with lip service. He adds that it's time for the number one hospital in the state to step up and meet the needs of workers.

"They need more staff retention policies and they need to be able to attract the best talent," he said.

UCHealth gave employee bonuses and paid bumps this year, but one nurse clarified that not everyone qualified.

"Those raises were not universal by any means. They were a marketed pay increase," the ICU nurse said.

"We want appropriate staffing," a CNA with UCHealth added. "We want to feel safe. We want to feel empowered to deliver the care that we can feel proud of and that we feel our patients deserve."

If you would like to learn more about UCHealth Workers United, click here.