‘We’re burned out’: Philly nurses raise concerns over hospital jobs and workplace safety

About 900 unionized registered nurses at Einstein Medical Center in North Philadelphia are in contract negotiations with parent company, Jefferson Health.

Nurses hold picket signs.

Nurses at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia picketed outside the hospital for a better contract on May 11, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Registered nurses at a North Philadelphia hospital say the overall environment for health care workers today has become brutal, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unionized workers at Einstein Medical Center – Philadelphia are the latest group of professionals to seek some relief and improvements through new labor contract negotiations with management.

“The truth is we’re burned out, we’re tired, a lot of us are traumatized,” said Danielle Wright, a registered nurse. “We’ve experienced a lot. And that’s where I would say things have gotten worse in the last three years, because of the pandemic.”

Danielle Wright holds up picket signs.
Danielle Wright holds up picket signs. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Einstein Nurses United represents about 900 nurses at the Philadelphia facility and is in contract negotiations with the hospital’s parent company, Jefferson Health.

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Nurses held an informational picket Thursday outside the medical center on Broad Street.

As they marched along the sidewalk with signs and flags, workers called for higher wages on par with other health networks in the region, more security measures in and around the hospital, and additional protocols to prevent and address incidents of workplace violence.

Carla Le’coin, a maternal health registered nurse, has worked at Einstein since 1988. She said she’s seen violence against health care workers escalate over the years and become the norm.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had some situations where nurses were touched without consent, they’re brutalized,” she said. “Someone — actually an employee — had her finger bitten off and she was asked to return the next day to work.”

Carla LeCoin speaks into a microphone.
Carla LeCoin, an Einstein Nurses Union board member and employee at the hospital since 1988, shamed management for not standing with nursing staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Wright, who works at Einstein’s Crisis Response Center for mental and behavioral health emergencies, said the levels of violence in recent years aren’t entirely unsurprising, given a rise in complex cases coming through hospitals during the pandemic.

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“Along with just more people, and people being sicker and people being more stressed, along with that comes more people who are frustrated and just unstable,” Wright said, “and sometimes who become violent.”

Staffing shortfalls have always been a reoccurring issue, Le’coin said, but especially so following the pandemic when many hospital systems were forced to hire travel nurses and temporary workers to meet high demand.

About one-third of nurses reported in a national survey this month that they intend to leave their career because of the pandemic.

There are about 300 unionized nursing vacancies at the Einstein hospital in Philadelphia, according to union leaders. Le’coin said changes need to be made in order to attract new nurses and keep seasoned ones like herself.

“So when your loved ones, when you come in, you’re taken care of,” Le’coin said. “There are enough nurses to take care of you, to support you, to teach you how to care for yourself after discharge.”

Einstein Nurses United is part of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.

The local union’s contract expired April 30.

In a statement, Jefferson Health officials said they are “committed to negotiating in good faith for a new contract that provides nurses with fair, competitive wages and benefits while allowing the hospital to continue delivering safe, high-quality care.”

Einstein nurses said they hope to reach an agreement with management soon in order to avoid a strike.

“This is a great hospital to work at in a lot of ways. People love it here, they feel like it’s their home,” Wright said. “So, we want to stay here. We just need to be better taken care of. We need to be healthier.”

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