ST. PAUL — Minnesota nursing union leaders on Monday, Dec. 20, called on hospital CEOs to boost staffing and on lawmakers to increase nursing salaries during the upcoming legislative session.

The requests come as hospitals around the state continue to see their facilities overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, as well as others requiring emergency care. Federal medical teams have deployed to help relieve three Minnesota hospitals and Gov. Tim Walz called on the Minnesota National Guard to train and serve as certified nursing assistants in facilities around the state.

Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary Turner urged hospital leaders to take short-term steps like prioritizing nurses' scheduling requests and allowing them to take sick time without questioning or a doctors' note to help ease burnout. And down the road, she said they should hire additional nurses and compensate them fairly.

“We’re losing the war. The COVID-19 pandemic is worse than ever, ICU beds are full and patients are back in the hallways and waiting rooms,” Turner said. “Nurses need more than words, we need action to address the crisis of staffing and retention to Minnesota hospitals, we cannot go on like this.”

Other nurses said the health care workforce shortages prevented hospitals from opening up additional emergency room or intensive care beds. And nurses were asked to take on patient loads double what they typically would, potentially worsening outcomes for those patients.

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Trisha Ochsner, a nurse at Children's Minnesota, said nurses filed 2,800 unsafe staffing forms in 2021 compared to about 800 filed in a typical year. Unable to take on the physical and psychological toll of the enhanced workloads, many nurses retired early or moved to other positions, she said.

"The reality is that COVID has helped shed a light on the systemic problem of unsafe staffing across the Twin Cities and the state," Ochsner said. "Short-staffing has been a talking point and a crisis we have dealt with for years."

The union members also called on Minnesota lawmakers to take steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission like requiring masks in public spaces and allowing schools to move to distance learning. Turner asked that they also prioritize nurses for some of the $7.7 billion budget surplus funding.

“We want to put our bid in really early here in case someone else takes it, for God’s sake use the resources to hire the nurses, help with bonuses, help some of these rural hospitals that have no hope of getting extra resources,” she said.

The Minnesota Hospital Association has surveyed members to better understand what fuels burnout in clinicians and has started work to create best practices hospitals can use to help prevent it. The group has said hospitals are under financial strain due to the pandemic and the loss of revenue from elective surgeries. And its leaders have echoed calls to the Legislature to use surplus dollars to help them keep health care staff in place during the pandemic and beyond.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com