Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a response provided Tuesday morning by UPMC Altoona.
Registered nurses on a medical/surgical unit at UPMC Altoona are expected to be responsible for a number of patients that may be high enough to be considered at risk as the hospital faces ongoing staffing issues, according to a passage from a recent so-called management newsletter. shared with the mirror by multiple sources.
The passage on what the newsletter calls “A delicate subject” was widely circulated – and panned – on social media.
“Until things improve, we ask staff to understand that it is possible to take on 8 patients in medicine/surgery, when staffing situations are poor,” the passage indicates. “It’s not ideal, or safe, but it’s a direct order from senior management…and refusing to take an 8 when asked to do so may result in HR (human resources) being moved.”
A UPMC spokeswoman said the hospital is still investigating the matter and expects to comment on Tuesday.
“Really? UPMC of Altoona? Really?” says a woman on Tik Tok, after reading the newsletter’s passage to her online audience. ” Its a threat. It’s not even a veiled threat. It’s a threat, pure and simple. You admit it’s not safe.
A nurse-patient ratio of 1-5 or 1-6 is typical for medical/surgical floors, but 1-8 is “just too much” said a floating nurse who did not want her name used for fear of repercussions and spoke to a reporter on the phone.
The problem of the med/surgical ratio stems from a “overwhelmed” emergency room, causing beds to fill up quickly after patients are discharged, according to the bulletin.
The issue should concern both patients and nurses, the floating nurse said.
It’s a problem because when an emergency arises that requires a nurse’s attention, that nurse is unable to pay attention to her other patients, the floating nurse said.
For example, if a patient “codes,” or is in a life-threatening emergency, another patient in another room could fall, she said.
“You can’t be in two places at once” she says.
The problematic passage has “gone extremely viral” said the floating nurse.
She herself heard about it from a friend in California and someone she knows in Boston, she said.
Last fall, when COVID-19 numbers were high, there was a lot of publicity about staffing shortages at UPMC Altoona, primarily focused on the emergency department, where long waits have become common.
“Covid-wise, things are much better now,” but in terms of personnel they are not, because “so many nurses are gone,” said the floating nurse.
This flight includes travel nurses who have had their contracts cut short, she said.
The hospital tried to rectify the problem, but was unable to do so, due to an unwillingness to raise salaries and benefits as much as needed, according to the floating nurse.
That’s especially true with long-serving nurses, whom the hospital hasn’t done enough to retain, she said.
“They (hospital management) are definitely not doing their best,” she says.
Nurses are generally unwilling to speak freely on staffing issues because “management will find a way to get you in trouble”, she says.
However, some UPMC Altoona nurses are planning to hold a rally outside the Blair County Courthouse today to advocate for the state General Assembly. “moving forward with the Patient Safety Act”, legislation that would establish staffing standards for hospitals, according to a press release from a spokesperson for SEIU-Healthcare PA, which represents RNs at UPMC Altoona.
In a statement provided to the Mirror on Tuesday morning by Ed DeWitt, public relations manager, UPMC Altoona said: “The allegation is simply not true. Providing safe, quality patient care is always our highest priority. The sentiments expressed in the social media post are an excerpt of content written by an employee reflecting his own opinions. We always encourage staff to report any quality or safety concerns and no nurse will ever be disciplined for raising related issues. As such, a member of the team would never sent to HR for raising patient safety concerns.As one of the busiest hospitals in the region, and as with all UPMC hospitals, staff are continually assessed to ensure safety. As evidenced by our Leapfrog “A” Hospital Safety Rating announced today for UPMC Altoona, the health and safety of our patients is at the center of everything we do.
The Mirror’s staff writer, William Kibler, is at 814-949-7038.