Hundreds of nurses gathered before the White House on Thursday to demand increased wages, protection from violent attacks carried out by patients in their care, and a resolution to nationwide staffing shortages.
The United States has had a nationwide shortage of nurses that goes back a decade, but the problem was thrust into the spotlight at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to about 1 in 5 nurses leaving their positions due to overwork, burnout, emotional or physical trauma, and low pay.
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“So many nurses are leaving the profession, so the people left holding down the fort ... are just overwhelmed because it's demanded of them to care for more patients than is safe,” said Kate Edgar, a registered nurse from Long Island.
The nurses in attendance at the event, which was organized by the group National Nurses March, also described instances of violence from patients in their care and feeling left behind by their employers, who they argue do little to protect them.
“I've been assaulted by patients a lot of times, and I've only been a nurse for three years,” said Paige, a long-term care nurse from Michigan who wished to withhold her last name. “And people shouldn't have to deal with that. And we shouldn't have to let patients assault us and then be asked what we did wrong in the end. So something needs to change.”
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Members of Congress have tried to address patient-on-nurse violence with legislation to direct the Department of Labor to set new standards healthcare employers have to follow to ensure the safety of their staff at work. The bipartisan bill titled the "Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act" passed out of the House over a year ago but has remained stalled in the Senate.
“My first or second day on the shift, I had somebody throw a blow, and there's no consequence,” said Caitlyn Barnard, who is about to finish nursing school in Florida. “Not that we necessarily want our patients who are out of their minds to have consequences, but it doesn't serve to go to work and be injured and not have that addressed. It just makes you feel expendable.”