Fired nurses testify for patient safety

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MESQUITE, Texas — A panel of community leaders here heard testimony on the health care situation in North Texas on Aug. 15. The firing of three registered nurses who stood up for patient safety in spite of the Mesquite hospital’s insistence that profits come first prompted the hearing.

Hospital administrators sent RNs Sandra Taylor, Diana Sepeda and Nancy Friesen home, and fired them later, because they insisted on serving only the number of patients for whom they could safely care. Supporters unanimously believe the real reason was that the three nurses are outspoken supporters of an organizing drive by the National Nurses Organizing Committee.

Taylor told the panel about her extensive experience in other hospitals and in other areas. She concluded that, in her opinion, “Texas is worse” on patient safety. She said the only reason hospital administrators say that a nursing shortage exists is because “qualified nurses are leaving the bedside because they are discouraged by their work situations.”

Sepeda said hospital administrators in North Texas not only fired the three nurses, but illegally blacklisted them as well. Friesen compared her experiences in Canada with the United States and concluded that patients were far safer in her home country. Even though Canada may have less advanced medical equipment, it has much better staffing ratios, she said.

Nurses rose from the audience to report their own experiences. One nursing supervisor and one human relations executive from hospitals rose to defend the system, but angry working nurses refuted their claims. The hearing came on the same day that newspapers carried the story that the United States, which spends much more money on health care than any other nation, had fallen to 42nd in life expectancy.

The panel members were: Texas state Rep. Roberto Alonzo, community activist Harriet Irby, the Rev. C.E. Clark, Texas Alliance for Retired Americans Secretary Gene Lantz and retired biochemistry professor Morton Traeger. After hearing the discussion and asking questions, they brought four conclusions forward:

• Safe staffing ratios need to be encoded into Texas law;

• Health care professionals should not be forced to work outside their area of expertise;

• Texas nurses need adequate “whistleblower” protection;

• Health care professionals should have more input into hospital decisions.