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Nurses Protest Working Conditions At St. Mary’s Hospital In Reno

Women and children in red shirts stand outside of a hospital building holding protest signs.
Trevor Bexon of This Is Reno
Multiple nurses and their family members held a mostly quiet protest outside of St. Mary’s Hospital in downtown Reno on May 7, 2020.. ";

Some of the nurses at St. Mary’s Hospital in downtown Reno demonstrated in front of the facility last week to express their concerns about working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bob Conrad is publisher of This Is Reno and he was there covering the protest. He shared what he learned with KUNR’s News Director Michelle Billman.

Billman: Bob, you covered the recent protest at St. Mary’s. How many people were there and what did they tell you?

Conrad: Yeah, so I was there about 25 minutes and saw maybe about a dozen people demonstrating. There were a number of people, however, who were driving by and honking. They waved in support.

The concerns were really two-fold. The nurses said they simply do not have enough of the right type of person protective equipment to do their jobs safely. They said they are reusing masks and that some of the equipment they do have just isn’t really sufficient for what they should be doing or how they’re interacting with COVID-19 patients.

Billman: OK, and you mentioned that there were two main concerns that these nurses were demonstrating about. What was the second issue they voiced?

Conrad: The other concern is that they said they’re not getting enough information, [including] basic things like responses from hospital’s management.

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center was founded in 1908 by the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, but it’s now owned by a private national company called Prime Healthcare, and the nurses are saying that this outside ownership is simply not communicating with them.

I spoke with Kelly Heywood, who was there protesting. Here’s what she had to say:

“That’s a big reason why we’re here today,” Heywood said. “We don’t want to be out here today.  We’ve been trying for weeks the nice way, I guess I would say it, you know, through email...through Prime corporate; however, they just are not replying to our emails on a lot of different things about bringing in more nurses to achieve safe staffing. We’ve been putting nurses over-ratio; we have nurses in the COVID unit over-ratio, which is very dangerous. We’re asking them to release more information on what’s going on with our task force, with how much PPE do we actually have. If we’re going to have a resurgence, is it going to be enough? And we’re just not getting a reply. We tried the nice way, so now we have to be out here, unfortunately, taking away from patient care.”

Billman: Is it clear how many patients and staff members at St. Mary’s have tested positive for COVID-19?

Conrad: No, the numbers are not clear as to how many nurses or patients may have contracted COVID-19. Heywood did tell me that that is private and protected information. She did say, however, that [some of] the nurses have gotten COVID-19 on the job and that there is still a concern about getting the virus from patients.

Billman: Has St. Mary’s issued a response to the concerns of their workers?               

Conrad: The hospital sent an email statement and it basically said that it values its employees and patients, and that it has been communicating with them. The hospital’s representative also said that the hospital does meet and exceed CDC recommendations for the use of PPE.

Billman: Are these nurses part of a union and has that union released a statement about this situation?

Conrad: Yes, these nurses are part of a union. We did not receive a statement from the union, but Heywood is a member of the union and was speaking at that event on behalf of the union.

Editor's Note: As an additional note, we added the following information to the broadcast version of this story: The Washoe County Regional Information Center reported at the start of this week that there is still hospital capacity in the region. There are 43 people who are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. 65 percent of staffed short-term, acute beds are occupied and 32 percent of ICU beds are occupied. 

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
Bob Conrad, PhD, APR is a media professional with more than 20 years of experience in journalism, public relations, marketing and publishing. He’s the co-founder of ThisisReno.com, a locally owned and operated online news website.
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