Frustrated obstetrics nurses and staff warned of risks from understaffing at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center during a Health Department inspection last spring, The Tribune-Democrat has confirmed.
“There are times that I’ve done 12-hour shifts and have not gotten any breaks,” one employee told state inspectors on March 26. “Staff is very unhappy right now, we’re losing someone all the time.”
Another worker who had been with the unit for more than 20 years called the staffing and overtime situation “the worst I’ve ever seen.”
It’s taking a toll on the nurses, the employee told inspectors.
“We don’t eat sometimes, no relief to go to eat,” the worker said. “Night shift is very busy, very rarely get relief on nights.”
A supervisor admitted to inspectors in early April, “It’s not safe for the patients” due to mandatory overtime and weary staff.
“It’s a safety issue,” an employee told the inspectors. “It’s just a matter of time unit (sic) someone really gets hurt or we lose a baby.”
A scathing Health Department inspection report recently released on the department website says, “It was determined that the facility failed to ensure that a sufficient number of nursing personnel were assigned to provide nursing care needs of patients by failing to follow adopted staffing guidelines and policies.”
The situation is improving by following an action plan developed in cooperation with the Health Department, Conemaugh Health System said in statement prepared for The Tribune-Democrat.
“We’ve already seen good results from these efforts,” the statement says.
“Our mandatory hours, overtime rate, and use of on-call staffing have significantly improved. We closely monitor our outcomes for clinical quality, patient experience and safety, and they remain consistently positive even when staffing has been challenging.
“Conemaugh is committed to ensuring we maintain the highest standards of quality care and patient safety for all those we serve,” the statement said.
The supervisor said the situation reflects changes in where nurses want to work.
“Everybody used to want to work in OB; you couldn’t get a job in this department,” the staffer told the inspectors. “Now we can’t even hire people. People are leaving. When they do come, they are thrown into the mix because orientation time is cut in half.”
The closing of maternity departments at nearby hospitals, including Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber and UPMC Somerset has added to the workload, staff members acknowledged.
Inspectors also cited a staffing shortage in one unit of the Ashman-Rose Pavilion.
Conemaugh’s response has included measures outlined in a plan of correction approved in July. They include hiring more registered nurses, implementing more cross-training, extending orientation training and providing opportunities for staff to volunteer for extra shifts.
“We are on track with our progress,” Conemaugh’s statement says. “Our maternity department has been able to hire additional staff to meet increased patient volumes: 11 new RN’s for our maternity unit. We’re interviewing for two open RN and one open OB-tech position.
“We are using one full-time agency nurse to cover our open position until it is filled.”
In addition, the cross-training and extended orientation training has been implemented, the hospital said.
“We evaluate patients’ needs and staffing throughout the shift to provide safe patient care,” the statement said. “We implemented a mass text program to allow volunteers to cover staffing shortages, and we allow staff to volunteer for on-call shifts four weeks in advance.”
Hospital inspection reports are published on the Health Department website, health.pa.gov, 41 days after they are finalized. The website also has links to inspection reports for nursing homes, home health agencies, outpatient clinics, hospice, mental health clinics and X-ray facilities, among others.