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'This is not sustainable': Nurses at Longmont hospital, exhausted and overwhelmed, call for change

Nurses from Longmont United Hospital want to unionize and bargain for better pay and conditions at the hospital.

LONGMONT, Colo. — Nurses from Longmont United Hospital hoping to unionize gathered Thursday morning to speak about what they described as unsafe conditions at their hospital.

"It's crazy," Alison Jelinek said. “We’re always trying to find ways to fill in gaps-- people to come in and work partial shifts, stay late.”

Jelinek, a nurse for 29 years, made her rounds Thursday morning, but it looked different than usual.

“Would you ladies like to sign in here?" she said, clipboard in hand. "We sure appreciate you coming.”

Jelinek took down names of colleagues and supporters who gathered for Thursday's event across the street from Longmont United Hospital.

The group, supported by National Nurses United (NNU), donned red union t-shirts and held signs reading "patients first in the community." Several nurses spoke at a microphone set up in the grass alongside Mountain View Avenue.

“In the last few weeks, we have regularly had [registered nurses] taking three and sometimes four patients at a time," Stephanie Chrisley said. "This is day in and day out.”

Chrisley, an ICU nurse, said she's worked at Longmont United Hospital for more than five years. She said the hospital is "incredibly short-staffed" and roughly 80 nurses have left their jobs since July. Chrisley said she and her colleagues feel the strain.

“We’ve seen our nurse-to-patient ratios move in an unsafe direction," said Kris Kloster, a registered nurse for more than 32 years. "We’ve watched massive numbers of Longmont United nurses and staff move on without a single effort at retention.”

The nurses who attended the event want to unionize, and they're frustrated the results of a July 7 vote to join National Nurses United haven't been determined.

"The hospital is set on delaying our election results," Chrisley said.

A spokesperson for Centura Health told 9NEWS the hospital system was not delaying the election results, and referred questions about the process to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the agency that manages and governs the voting process.

"The outcome of that election is still undetermined by the NLRB, and we have been working with the agency to resolve the matter," Longmont United Hospital Interim CEO Kristi Olson said. "We believe this effort by NNU is an attempt to draw attention to the union and move its organizing efforts into the public domain."

A check of the case on the NLRB website showed the status as "open" and a decision on the election results had yet to be made.

"The NLRB process is very important, and we are committed to making sure that all voices were heard in the democratic election that was held by the NLRB," Olson said.

The group gathered outside the hospital Thursday was tired of waiting. The nurses said they want better pay so they can provide better care.

"But this is impossible if we’re not given the tools and resources we need to give that care," Chrisley said.

9NEWS reached out to the Colorado Hospital Association about the concerns expressed by the nurses. A spokesperson provided the following statement:

"Colorado hospitals and health systems are facing an unprecedented staffing crisis this fall, with significant capacity challenges due to an ongoing surge of COVID-19 patients and incredibly high levels of non-COVID hospitalizations. On top of that, we recognize that many hospital professionals have chosen to leave the health care industry during the pandemic due to fatigue, stress, and incredibly challenging work. Finally, it’s worth noting that some national resources like staffing agencies or traveling nurses are not as readily available as they may be in 'normal' times, so it’s not as simple for a hospital to hire new staff to help during this shortage.

"Because of these shortages, hospitals have had to take some extraordinary measures in order to ensure that they can continue providing care for as many patients as possible. That may include different staffing standards, which are typically based on patients acuity and as such can change. Those decisions typically made by seasoned nurse leaders and executives. Also, last month, the state activated the Crisis Standards of Care for Staffing, which provides additional clarity about staffing flexibility under severe resource constraints."

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