Bullets fly, some finding homes in hospital walls. Sick bodies lie in bays waiting to be triaged because of staffing shortages. Someone is ambushed while treating patients, jerked to the ground by her hair from behind and kneed in the head so hard she suffers a head trauma. She is now a casualty, out on leave with PTSD. No, this not Afghanistan. This is a routine night at a hospital emergency room in downtown Minneapolis.
This war-zone like work environment has become common for nursing staff there, who will participate in a strike next week with 15,000 nurses from 16 hospitals in the Twin Cities and Duluth area.
While many media reports have pointed to staffing, retention, and patient costs as motivating factors, other nurses are citing safety as the primary reason they’re willing to walk off the job.
“This isn’t about money. Sure, it’s important, but money means nothing if you’re worried about your safety and your ability to care for patients,” said an ER hospital nurse who spoke with Alpha news and requested to remain anonymous. Alpha News spoke with nurses employed at two different hospital locations in the city.
Their concerns are identical, and they both requested their identities be concealed.
“Minneapolis isn’t safe anymore. Our staff isn’t safe. We’re constantly getting security text notices about lockdowns. We get text messages at least every other day about drive-by shootings, assaults, robberies, or guns being brought into the ER. It’s a mess,” she said.
They say they are frightened, frustrated and constantly on edge.
“I’d give up every ounce of a raise for security. This is not about money,” one nurse said. “I used to love what I do. I still do. But when we don’t feel safe and can’t safely care for our patients, it’s exhausting.”
The union vote to strike required a supermajority to pass, according to a press release from the Minnesota Nurse’s Association. The vote authorized nurse negotiators to call a strike following a 10-day notice to hospital employers. The strike is scheduled to begin Sept. 12 and last at least three days.
The strike would be one of the largest nurses strikes in U.S. history, according to the union.
“We want safety, adequate staffing and equipment to do our jobs,” one nurse said. “We don’t have the staff or equipment to properly care for patients.”
Just last week at Fairview Riverside, Crime Watch reported a “suspect barricaded himself in the bathroom, jumped and crawled through the ceiling, jumped the desk and attacked the staff. He may have had a firearm.”
One of the nurses recounted another story. She said “Code 21s” — when a patient is out of control — have become commonplace among pediatric and adult populations. COVID has made mental health situations worse, she said.
“Recently, a patient was brought into the emergency room. He was out of control. We were finally able to contain him in a locked room. Security was watching him using the cameras in the security system. If he got out, they were instructed to alert us, and we were instructed to shelter in place or lock ourselves in the med room. Even the doctor refused to enter the room for fear of being attacked,” she said.
Staff are abused, and ER shootings are not uncommon, she said.
“When there’s a shooting and the victim doesn’t die, it’s not uncommon for the shooter to follow the ambulance to the hospital, go in and try to finish the job. Criminals are not stupid. They know no police are in the hospital,” she said.
In addition, one of the nurses only has three security guards for the whole campus where she works.
“We have a panic button, but the response time (waiting for a hospital security guard) is quite long and when hospital security does arrive, there’s not much they can do. Even when we call the police, it’s 20 to 30 minutes before they show up. They’re short staffed, too,” the nurse said.
The bottom line is, she said, she feels unsafe.
“I never used to feel I had to watch my back walking in and out of work. Now I always do,” she said.
“I’m not saying money isn’t important. Some people do need more money. But when we only have five to six nurses on staff, workload and security are number-one issues. How can they hand out millions of dollars in bonuses and can’t afford metal detectors?” she said.
During the pandemic, they called hospital nurses and doctors frontline workers. Now these nurses feel as if they are on the frontlines of a war zone, but they’re not “essential workers.”
One nurse fought back tears as she told her story.
“I want to be compassionate. That’s why I went into the profession. I think most people went into the profession for that reason, but I don’t feel the same way I used to,” she said.
“What ifs” are always looming in the back of her mind, she said. “What if … no security …no equipment ….”
Despite the hardship and volatile working environment, this nurse is committed to her work. “This is our community. This is my home. You want to have your family member be safe. If I leave, who is going to be that caring and compassionate person to care for your loved one?”
She’s willing to stick it out, even though she feels like hospital administration does not care about her needs.
Sheila Qualls is an award-winning journalist and former civilian editor of an Army newspaper. Prior to joining Alpha News, she was a Christian Marriage and Family columnist at Patheos.com and a personal coach. Her work has been published in The Upper Room, the MOPS blog, Grown and Flown, and The Christian Post. She speaks nationally on issues involving faith and family.