Slayton Nurses Show Courage Beyond the Bedside

27 Mar

take-back-mcmc The employees of Murray County Medical Center (MCMC) in Slayton, MN often refer to themselves in the collective as “family.” They are neighbors and friends who care for neighbors and friends in the most of vulnerable times.    In recent years, however, circumstances for patients on some of the hospital’s shifts at the county-owned hospital became so alarming that many of those family members have left the facility. Nurses, physicians, physician assistants and others have either resigned or were forced out – some amidst the disruption of legal wrangling.

Several months ago, nurses who are also MNA Stewards surveyed their co-workers and the results pointed to the hostile environment, fears about inadequate staffing and the fact it is impossible for nurses to be two places at once due to the distance between patient care units.

Julie Lind, a member of MNA who worked at MCMC for the past six years was one of those who could no longer accept the situation. “I believe patients and co-workers were in an unsafe environment,” said Lind. “I resigned because I felt nursing ethics were being violated.”  More than once Lind worked a shift alone on her med-surg unit caring for seven patients, with only one other RN in the hospital, who was two hundred feet away in the ER unit.  In November, Lind herself was injured while on duty.  She despairs most for co-workers who remain, however.  One colleague recently hurt her back and Lind was called in to relieve her.  “She was in tears.  This is a registered nurse who is as good as it’s going to get,” said Lind.

Most of the former and current employees point to a common source of the problems facing the hospital.  CEO Mel Snow arrived at MCMC in 2006 after questionable tenures in other health care facilities. One claim alleged he had stripped a publicly-owned hospital in Nebraska to usher it at a bargain price into the hands of Sanford Healthcare.  Some speculated Snow had similar intentions for MCMC. A number of employees believe Snow surrounded himself with other managers who went along with him as he operated in an atmosphere in which bullying was not only allowed but encouraged, which fostered an environment of intimidation and fear.

It was MNA nurses who inspired a public uprising of awareness and action.  During a February meeting of the County Commissioners (who also act as the hospital Board of Directors), nurses Monica VanOtterloo, Sara Lewis and Donna Thomson all spoke their truths to the admiring applause of audience members.

“I love my job,” said Lewis.  “But we have a lot of concerns that we’ve brought to administration regarding safety related to staffing.”  Lewis urged the Commissioners to do something, saying, “I’m very afraid.” Thomson called on the Commissioners to capture reality by conducting an employee satisfaction survey and exit interviews of those who left.  She posed the concerns that reflected a majority of sentiment that night.  “What’s it going to take?  How many more nurses? What are we going to do if we don’t have nurses?”

Within days of the confrontation, a public Facebook page emerged, entitled “Taking Back MCMC.”  Community members were on fire with discussion and ideas for next steps. Participants expressed support for all MCMC workers and even shared their own stories of suffering due to poor staffing.

On the night of a planned citizen meeting, the group learned some welcome news.  Mr. Snow had delivered his own resignation to the Commissioners.

While heartened, there’s no return to complacency for MCMC providers and Murray County residents.  One of the most recent posts on the Facebook page reads “try and stay positive and dwell on remaining a community who fought for safe working conditions and a county hospital.  We have a ways to go, but working together got us this far.”

In the wake of Snow’s departure, there is a general consensus that remaining hospital management has a lot of work to do in order to earn back the trust of the entire staff by demonstrating that they are listening and will make the necessary changes.   Employees and community members have expressed concern that, while some members of management may quietly be relieved the former CEO is gone, other managers may have been “cut from the same cloth” as Snow.

Those seeking change in the hospital culture warn that if managers are not able to learn and adapt, additional problems at MCMC will need to be resolved in order for MCMC to have a healthy workplace for attracting and retaining staff.  An optimal environment for staff would be to have all of the ethical, emotional and physical support they need while they deliver outstanding patient care.

MNA nurses have made it a goal to help community members regain confidence in the hospital. They have already conducted meetings in an attempt to open the gates of communication, knowing that getting input from employees for decisions on future issues will help significantly.  “We know it will take a lot for the trust to come back, but we are hopeful,” said Thomson.

Additional links:

KWOA AM 730 Radio:  Unhappy Crowd Attends Murray County Medical Center Community Meeting

KSFY TV:  Slayton, Minn. Concerned for County Hospital

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