BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Frontline workers at Kaleida Health said COVID-19 is making staffing issues that already existed worse.
"Staffing's always been a problem, but it became most apparent when COVID hit," said Patrick Weisensal a CT scan tech at Buffalo General Medical Center. "COVID was like the spotlight to really show what's been going on."
In an interview with 7 Eyewitness News several registered nurses, certified medical assistants (CMA), and other healthcare workers said cuts to CMAs and patient care assistants (PCA) burdened their workload and affected how they can care for patients. They voiced these concerns as part of an organized effort by rank and file members of CWA Local 1168, the union that represents them.
Kaleida Health Senior Vice President Michael Hughes said Kaleida is adjusting to a changing healthcare system.
"This issue is simply about union leadership opposing change," he said. "The change, which is appropriate, is a redesign on how we deliver care to our patients. The PCA job description has not changed -- the process has changed."
He said Kaleida has added bedside nurses over the past five years, and because hospital patients are sicker than years ago, nurses need to be the driving force behind the care.
Sammie Schopf is an RN at Buffalo General. She said she's had a bigger patient load and less ancillary staff.
“How do we have empowerment or more authority when we don’t even have staff to do the jobs that we need to do to take care of our patients,” Schopf said.
Hughes said the hospital system is actively recruiting more than 160 nurse and patient care positions between Millard Fillmore Suburban and Buffalo General.
The healthcare workers said COVID-19 has added to the burden because there are no family members who would sometimes help with tasks like feeding patients. They also said that non-COVID-19 patients come in sicker because they have tried to avoid going to the hospital.
According to James Scordato, the Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, 43 full time equivalent patient care assistants were cut. He said this shifted staffing ratios from one PCA to every five patients to one PCA to every 15 patients.
“It’s just mind boggling that during a pandemic, you would cut sets of hands, and eyes, and ears at the bedside that are all there to take care of patients,” Weisensal said.
Hughes said every worker has been offered another opportunity in the system.
Jennifer Hogue, a CMA at Buffalo General Medical Center, said she doesn't have time complete all the tasks she used to do when caring for patients. She said she can only focus now on taking vitals and helping patients to the bathroom.
“It’s just unrealistic to be able to do all the tasks that we need to do," Hogue said. "We went from three ancillary staff now to one staff, and it’s just very unmanageable."
COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise in Erie County.
“More staff members are going to become burnt out," Schopf said. "We’re going to lose more staff not necessarily to COVID, but to the high anxiety, to the burnout, to the stress.”