Frustrations continue as central Indiana hospitals deal with staffing challenges


INDIANAPOLIS — Comments made during a virtual town hall meeting appear to indicate the level of frustration among some hospital leadership and staff members in central Indiana.

A video being shared across social media includes a 32-second clip of a virtual town hall among employees at Ascension St. Vincent’s 86th Street hospital campus. In the clip, a top hospital leader appears to grow frustrated with comments being made during the meeting. At the end of the video, the person is heard saying, “If you don’t like working here, then go someplace else.”

Upon request for more context surrounding the video, Ascension Senior Vice President Jonathan Nalli released the following:

“During last week’s town hall meeting on our 86th Street Campus, some of the comments made by leadership were not reflective of the Values of Ascension. We hear you and will continue to be in solidarity with you. Ascension is more than an organization – we are a ministry of people who have experienced the daily stress of providing front-line care to patients during a global pandemic that has impacted our world for more than 18 months now.”

Lorie Brown, president of the National Association of Nurse Attorneys and former board member of the Indiana State Nurses Association, says frustration and “burnout” among hospital nurses is at an all-time high.

“They see these travel nurses coming in that are getting paid a lot more than them, or they see people that are newer recruits that are getting sign-on bonuses, and they’re like, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve been here, I’ve been loyal, why aren’t I getting paid more?’” Brown said.

However, Brown says frustrations don’t focus solely on pay.

“Money is great, but they’re more after how they’re treated, how they’re respected,” she said. “What’s the staffing level? How supported are they when they have a problem?

“These nurses don’t even get breaks, they don’t even have time to eat, they’re not allowed to have drinks at the nurses station, so they’re not even getting hydrated.”

Johnson Memorial Health President and CEO Dr. David Dunkle agrees that frustrations are running high among staffers, and hospitals need to take steps to reverse the trend of nurses leaving for better working conditions. He says JMH has started awarding retention bonuses to keep nurses from going elsewhere. The bonuses come in the midst of what he calls a “wage war.”

“We just lost a couple nurses to a competing organization that are offering exuberant sign-on bonuses that us as a small hospital just can’t match,” Dunkle said. “For hospitals our size, I think community hospitals, we really have to attract people with our culture and our nurturing environment.”

Such bonuses and wage increases are becoming more common at different hospitals. Community Health Network recently began offering $15,000 sign-on bonuses for some nursing positions. The hospital network also recently increased its minimum wage from $12.50 per hour to $15 per hour.

While these efforts continue, Brown says hospitals need to create an atmosphere to make sure nurses feel valued and appreciated. She added that small gestures can go a long way.

“They want to feel supported, they want to feel acknowledged and told they’re doing a good job,” Brown said. “Maybe it’s somebody tapping them on the shoulder saying, ‘Hey, I’m here to relieve you. Go take a 15 minute break.’”

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