McLaren Lapeer nurses hold a rally to call for better working conditions on May 19, 2023. | Photo courtesy of the Michigan Nurses Association
Following 16 hours of negotiations on Friday and Saturday, the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) and McLaren Lapeer Region Hospital reached a tentative contract agreement for nearly 250 unionized nurses.
The nurses at the hospital in Lapeer, a town about 20 miles east of Flint, will hold a ratification vote on the proposed three-year contract this Thursday. If the contract is ratified, the deal would become effective immediately and would avoid a strike nurses had unanimously authorized their union leaders to call if they deemed it necessary. The nurses’ previous contract expired on May 9.
The tentative agreement “achieves our members’ goals when it comes to staffing the hospital and providing compensation that will recruit and retain nurses in our community,” Carie Babcock, a registered nurse at McLaren Lapeer and president of the hospital’s local MNA bargaining unit, said in a press release.
“Nurses care deeply about the future of our hospital and our patients,” Babcock added. “That’s why we have stayed strong and united in advocating for what our patients need in terms of safe, high-quality care, and what nurses need to be able to do our jobs.”
Statements from the MNA and McLaren Lapeer said more details about the contract will be released should nurses approve the deal on Thursday.
“The bargaining committees have worked hard for approximately four months to reach an agreement that provides our nurses with market-competitive wages and benefits; a safe, positive work environment; and staffing improvements that address the hospital’s and nurses’ concerns,” McLaren Region Hospital said in a statement sent to the Advance.
“This agreement was negotiated more quickly than the last three contracts as the employer was proactively committed to addressing nursing issues from day one so that our hospital can focus on safe patient care,” the hospital said in its statement. “The new agreement allows McLaren Lapeer Region to continue delivering the high-quality care that our community expects from their community hospital.”
McLaren Lapeer nurses have called on administrators to address what they described as deteriorating conditions at their workplace, and the MNA accused the hospital of failing to abide by the minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in their previous contract.
Those frustrations were voiced during an informational picket held outside the hospital in May. About 100 people, both nurses and community members, attended that event.
“We want to thank the community for supporting us – they understand that nurses’ working conditions are their care conditions,” McLaren Lapeer nurse Ashley Witmer said in a press release. “Through our solidarity over these past months and our willingness to do whatever it takes, my colleagues and I are acting collectively to put patients first. This tentative agreement makes me hopeful that we can now move forward and keep the focus on making our hospital the best it can be for our community.”
McLaren Lapeer nurses’ concerns come at a time when health care workers across the state and country have aired similar concerns regarding high patient loads – an issue that nurses said is significantly contributing to them leaving the field. Currently, there’s no state or federal law that limits the number of patients a nurse can be assigned at a time, though state lawmakers are aiming to change.
In May, lawmakers in the Michigan House and Senate introduced a package of bills known as the Safe Patient Care Act, which would limit the number of patients a nurse can be assigned, curb mandatory overtime and require hospitals to publicly report their nurse-to-patient ratios. The legislation includes House Bills 4550–4552 and Senate Bills 334–336. Those bills remain in committee.
“Healthcare is in crisis because of years of hospital understaffing,” MNA President Jaime Brown said when the act was introduced on May 11. “Every year, the situation gets worse.
“Hospital executives have failed to fix the problem for over a decade,” Brown continued. “The only way to keep patients safe is through meaningful action that will hold corporate executives accountable. We need patients to be put before profits.”
The Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA) released a statement opposing the Safe Patient Care Act, calling it “harmful” and saying it would not address Michigan’s nursing shortage.
“Michigan hospitals are trying to fill 8,500 job openings for nurses,” MHA CEO Brian Peters and Michigan Organization for Nursing Leaders President Kim Meeker said in a statement issued in May. “Instituting a one-size-fits-all mandate requiring hospitals hire more nurses who do not currently exist will limit the services hospitals can offer to their communities, prolong the time it takes for a patient to receive care and hinder the ability of hospitals to respond to a crisis in fear of violating Michigan law.”
The MNA disagreed with that characterization. The union agreed there are too few nurses in the state’s hospitals – but the group said that problem exists because registered nurses are fed up with workplace conditions that have further deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), there are 154,758 registered nurses with active Michigan licenses. Of those, there are 102,480 people employed as registered nurses in the state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means there are about 50,000 registered nurses with active Michigan licenses who are currently not working as nurses.
Nurses at hospitals across the state – from Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor to McLaren Central in Mount Pleasant, Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo and Sparrow Hospital in Lansing – have reported facing deep burnout in recent years.
Christopher Friese, a registered nurse and a professor of nursing and public health at the University of Michigan, recently published a study that reported about four in 10 nurses in Michigan said in March 2022 that they planned on leaving their jobs in the coming year – including 59% of nurses 25 years old and younger. About 9,150 state-licensed nurses in Michigan participated in that study.
The nurses in Friese’s study reported wanting to leave in large part because of inadequate staffing.
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