Nurses fight to unionize at Sandoval Regional Medical Center

Irina Baranova
UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center. (Rio Rancho Observer)

Citing low pay, insufficient staffing and other issues, nurses and other employees at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center in Rio Rancho are pushing to form a union.

“I feel like it’s our responsibility to tell the community when their community hospital is not performing to the level that they believe it is and that they’re paying for,” said Adrienne Enghouse, a nurse at the medical center and one of the leaders of the effort to unionize.

To date, the medical center has declined to recognize the union, and both parties are awaiting a New Mexico District Court decision. Jamie Silva-Steele, president and CEO of SRMC, told the Journal that the medical center’s opposition is a procedural one, based on an interpretation of the law that established the medical center and treats it as a private entity, which would require the process to go through the National Labor Relations Board rather than the state Public Employee Labor Relations Board.

“What we are focused on is trying to get them to the right jurisdiction,” Silva-Steele said.

However, Enghouse said she believes the argument is a stall tactic by the medical facility, intended to exacerbate the burnout and frustration staff nurses are already experiencing.

“The community has a reason to be concerned, and they’re not being transparent,” Enghouse said.

In August, the medical center refused to recognize the petition filed by United Health Professionals of New Mexico, a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, on the basis that it is not a private employer under the University Research Park and Economic Development Act. After PELRB executive director Thomas Griego denied the medical center’s motion in September, attorneys for SRMC filed a writ of mandamus to send the decision to District Court. A hearing on Tuesday was delayed.

Enghouse said the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the nurses’ frustration. As with many medical facilities, SRMC has struggled to retain nurses during the pandemic due to burnout and high demand for medical care.

Enghouse said she heard from a manager that the medical center’s annual turnover rate has been 147% since the pandemic began. Silva-Steele disputed that figure, but acknowledged the rate is higher than it was prior to the pandemic.

“What we’ve seen is that nurses are choosing to leave the profession,” Silva-Steele said.

By bringing in traveling nurses and international workers, Silva-Steele said the facility has kept its nurse staffing levels relatively stable, but that the recent increase in COVID-19 cases has forced the facility to care for more patients than ever.

“There’s not one hour of the day that we are not thinking about ensuring that we have appropriate levels of staff,” she said.

Enghouse said high patient volumes, limited supplies, high level of turnover, and overreliance on traveling nurses and other newcomers have created an unsafe environment at Sandoval. She said staffing levels don’t meet the standards set by the Emergency Nurses Association, and many nurses on certain units are new to the facility or on a short-term travel assignment. In some cases, nurses lack sufficient call lights, medical scanners and other supplies, Enghouse said.

“We are short staffed in almost every department every day,” she said.

https://www.abqjournal.com/2451718/nurses-fight-to-unionize-at-sandoval-regional-medical-center.html

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