Nurses say at the end of the day, they just want the best care for their patients.By Amy Wadas

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Hospitals everywhere — from the big ones like AHN and UPMC to the smaller, rural ones — are dealing with a nursing shortage. Nurses said the shortage is a problem that needs to be fixed so patients can continue to get the quality care they deserve.

“It’s time West Penn leadership listens to nurses, respects nurses and invests in nurses,” said West Penn Hospital Nurse Kayla Rath.

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Dozens of West Penn nurses gathered at Friendship Park Thursday, holding up signs and calling on hospital management to agree to a new union contract, stressing that more progress is needed to address the nursing crisis facing health care.

“We want to recruit and retain nurses. We’ve had a lot of nurses leave over the last year especially and we just haven’t been able to replace them,” said Rath.

Some of the reasons they left?

“There’s been so much sadness and tragedy they’ve seen, so it’s been very difficult for people to let go,” said UPMC Chief Nurse Executive Holly Lorenz.

Shannon Casey knows all too well what that’s like. She cared for patients with COVID at the start of the pandemic and she personally worked with fellow nurses who couldn’t handle it.

“I know people who had been in nursing 50-plus years and did retire early. I think it freaked them out last year so you lost a lot of senior staff across the system,” said Casey, an ICU Nurse at UPMC.

On top of that, there’s burnout from working long hours and extra shifts.

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“We were pulled to units that we had never been before just to help out,” said West Penn Hospital NICU Nurse Kari Xander.

UPMC said it’s looking at different strategies to retain and recruit.

“We can allow people to move around UPMC. There are so many nursing goals that we are using as part of a conversation for people who feel like they need a change,” Lorenz said.

Meanwhile, AHN said it’s offering a significant sign-on and referral bonus for nurses through the network.

Despite the challenges, nurses said it all comes down to quality care.

“That’s the main thing. We want things to be better for our patients,” said Rath.

UPMC said it’s also in the process of opening up a fifth nursing school at its hospital in Erie. They’re hoping that encourages future nurses to stay in the area.

As for the nurses’ union contract, AHN said it is committed to offering employees at every level fair and competitive wages as well as working conditions that are conducive to the delivery of high-quality health care.

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AHN went on to say it’s continuing to bargain in good faith with the union to reach an agreement that meets those standards.