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Nurses: Hospital staffing dangerous

The more you talk with MountainView Hospital nurses, the more troubled you become.

What they say goes well beyond the generalized complaint they aired Tuesday night at a candlelight vigil outside the hospital: Being a MountainView nurse means having to care for too many patients.

If what they told me the morning after the vigil is true, understaffing has caused patients to die, fall, suffer broken bones and sit in their own excrement and urine for lengthy periods of time.

Make no mistake, MountainView officials, although they wouldn’t agree to an interview, say it isn’t true: “Those allegations are false and complete misinformation,” an email read.

The email, sent by spokeswoman Jennifer McDonnell, added that MountainView’s falls prevention program has earned praise from HealthInsight Nevada and noted that last Wednesday the Joint Commission accrediting agency named it one of the “Top Performers on Key Quality Measures” in dealing with conditions that include heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care.

MountainView nurses Lenore Garlinghouse and Sharon Quantz, along with a former nurse at the hospital, Elizabeth Bickle, weren’t talking about hospital awards either at the vigil or on the morning after. They were sharing stories about patients not receiving the care they deserve and talking about a vindictive hospital management not living up to a contract hammered out three years ago between the hospital and the union for the nurses, National Nurses United.

The 61-year-old Quantz, an oncology nurse with 41 years of experience who served on the negotiating team, said management agreed to a staffing plan that called for one nurse for two patients in the intensive care unit and one nurse for six patients on a “med/surg” floor — areas where patients underwent surgery or have a serious medical condition.

She said the contract is often ignored, with a med/surg nurse having to care for as many as nine patients spread out over two hallways of the hospital and an ICU nurse trying to deal with three critically ill patients at once. In an email, hospital officials told me they are “constantly evaluating staffing levels,” to give the best care.

“There have been patient falls and near misses on medication errors by nurses trying to do too much,” Quantz said. “A patient can put his light on that he needs to go to the bathroom and when you can’t get there in time he tries to get up and go himself. It can be dangerous. I remember patients breaking bones that way.”

She said she can also remember patients weakened by chemotherapy suffering head injuries that way.

Garlinghouse, 49, said supervisors have been notified and complaint forms filled out about patients placed in harm’s way, but no corrective action is ever taken. Quantz said she’s been told by management that the hospital has posted open positions but that they can’t find suitable nurses.

“If I got sick, MountainView wouldn’t be the first choice where I’d go or send my loved ones,” Garlinghouse said, adding that she’s witnessed patients (not hers) falling when a nurse or certified nursing assistant couldn’t get to the individual fast enough. “They’ve got us stretched too thin. The reason we’re coming forward like this is not for us, it’s for the patients.”

Sometimes, she said, she has as many as nine patients on two different corridors, so it is impossible to get to them quickly if they have problems.

Garlinghouse nurses in an area that she defines as high risk for falls. Often, she said, patients have dementia.

She said because of understaffing, those patients fall and are “lying in urine and feces for an unreasonable amount of time.”

Although she doesn’t work in intensive care, she said she’s been told by an ICU employee that “patients have died because of not having the correct staffing.”

“It’s very sad,” she said.

Realizing the seriousness of their allegations, both Quantz and Garlinghouse are concerned MountainView may take action against them, but they say they must do what’s right for patients. Bickle, now a nurse with St. Rose Dominican Hospitals, said their concerns are justified.

She noted that after she got active in the union last year working for what she sees as appropriate staffing, she was fired and MountainView made a complaint about her professionalism to the Nevada State Board of Nursing, which could have taken her license. “They just made up stuff about me,” she said. “It was scary.”

Attorney Kathleen Murphy-Jones, who represented Bickle at a nursing board hearing, said the board “closed the complaint. If they had found there was sufficient evidence … the nursing board would have imposed disciplinary action against her license for a violation of the Nurse Practice Act.”

The hospital’s termination against Bickle was taken to an arbitrator and his ruling is expected soon.

MountainView officials say they would never take action against an employee engaged in union activities.

“I hope I don’t lose my job,” Quantz said. ” I need it. My husband lost his construction job. But I’m putting my patients first, just like I always do.”

Paul Harasim can be reached at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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