The Public Record: Labor Crisis Looms at Mercy Hospital

by / Aug. 16, 2016 5pm EST

A labor crisis looming over Catholic Health has resulted in a scathing report by a local group regarding the company’s alleged pattern of short-staffing, leaving patients underserved and, at times, in squalor. 

Catholic Health is one of the area’s largest employers, with 8,000 employees situated mostly among its five area hospitals, but in numerous smaller facilities as well. 

The report—“Understaffed and Overworked”—includes testimony of more than a dozens nurses, therapists, and other direct-care providers. It was produced by the Western New York Workers’ Rights Board, a panel sponsored by the Coalition of Economic Justice that initially published a report in October 2015 alleging Catholic Health’s lack of good faith negotiation in a long-simmering labor dispute. That report was called “Breaking Faith.” 

Recently, workers across Catholic Health voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike if necessary, a potentially catastrophic measure. 

This most recent report details a heartbreaking series of testimony pointing toward overworked staff and underserved patients.

Kevona Neely, for example, testified that she suffered a miscarriage in the middle of her shift; the short-staffing was so acute that her supervisor asked her to see “if you can make it through your shift.” Blood soaked through her pants, she eventually left work for the hospital, but returned the next day for her usual 12-hour shift because she was worried about being disciplined, and about leaving her co-workers and patients unserved. 

Carrie Dilbert testified that she entered nursing after originally wanting to be a nun. “Being a nurse at a Catholic facility allows me to live my faith and serve God,” she said. She goes on to describe conditions at Mercy Hospital: “many patients are incontinent and when we are short-staffed, they are lying in their own urine and feces,” often resulting in bed sores. “This breaks my heart,” Dilbert concluded. “I want to carry out Catholic values, it is very important to me.”

Another nurse at Mercy Hospital, Katie Hummel, described a horrific moment of being unable to treat a patient with no pulse, and literally being called on, and failing, to do two things at once to save a person’s life. 

Multiple workers in the report testify that the Catholic Health has attempted to fix the short-staffing by employing agency nurses from outside the system that in their view only exacerbate the situation. The report cites that the company spent nearly $2 million on agency nurses in 2015 alone.