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Johns Hopkins Nurses Say Work Conditions Don’t Match Reputation

— December 11, 2018

Johns Hopkins Nurses Say Work Conditions Don’t Match Reputation

A group of Johns Hopkins Hospital nurses who are in the middle of a contentious campaign to unionize recently met to present reports against the East Baltimore hospital during a town hall meeting at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.  They’ve claimed that their work conditions do not match the hospital’s reputation.

“This hospital with its vast resources could be an example to follow, but the reality within Hopkins is a far cry from the reputation Hopkins enjoys,” said nurse Kate Phillips. “Our current working conditions prevent us from providing the best care possible.”

A Johns Hopkins spokesperson responded by stating that safety is the hospital’s first priority for patients, providers, and staff members.  Kim Hoppe said, “The Johns Hopkins Hospital, a not-for-profit hospital providing care for a large number of underserved residents, consistently earns recognition as one of the nation’s best hospitals for patient safety and care.  Our longstanding culture of collaboration and open communication with all of our employees aims directly at continuously improving and providing the highest quality of care. Our nurses are critical to providing this world-class care to our patients and their families, and we deeply respect their contributions to our organization.”

Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

The Hopkins nurses are plagued by high turnover rates, leading to a shortage of experienced caregivers. They said there often aren’t enough nurses to attend to patients’ needs and there is no system set up to ensure nurses are given adequate breaks.

“These conditions not only contribute to burnout and turnover, but every increase in the number of patients you give to a nurse leads to negative patient care outcomes,” said nurse Gail Levin.

National Nurses United, the union the Hopkins group is seeking to join, published detailed survey results showing that the majority of Hopkins nurses who responded felt at risk of injury at work sometimes. Of the 175 respondents, 37 percent said they experienced workplace violence in the past year and nearly half said their safety concerns were ignored.  Respondents who work in the Comprehensive Transplant Unit, caring for patients inflicted with communicable diseases, said their gloves are prone to ripping.

“At a world-class institution like Johns Hopkins, nurses’ gloves should not be breaking,” nurse Suzanne Levitch said.  She added, “We need a seat at table to remind management that patients are more important than profits.”

Not all nurses are for unionizing, however.  Marybeth Vidunas has spent more than two decades working at Hopkins, and said she feels like the union is misrepresenting conditions at the hospital and that it lives up to its reputation.  “I have never felt unsafe. I feel that we are staffed appropriately.  We’re supported really well.  I feel like we can always go to nursing leadership and talk about what our needs are.  I’ve never felt like nobody listened to us when we talked.”

The National Labor Relations Board has found evidence Hopkins officials are restricting the rights of nurses trying to unionize.  “We deeply respect [nurses]’…rights as employees including their right to support or oppose a union,” Hoppe said.  However, “We believe the union’s charges lack merit, and we stand by our workplace practices.”

Hoppe said the hospital is proud of its long-held reputation and efforts to help Baltimore communities thrive, adding, “Johns Hopkins supports the community in hundreds of ways, including scholarships for Baltimore’s students, hiring employees from economically challenged neighborhoods, contracting with local businesses, community development, community health initiatives, revitalization programs and helping citizens re-enter the workforce after incarceration.”


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