Voicing their concerns

Avera Marshall nurses hold informational picket

Photo by Deb Gau Participants in an informational picket walked down Bruce Street carrying signs Thursday afternoon. More than 60 people, including Avera Marshall nurses and area community members, gathered to raise awareness of concerns with staffing and restructuring at Avera Marshall.

MARSHALL — The corner of East College Drive and Bruce Street is already a busy place in the late afternoons. But there was extra activity Thursday as a long line of people, carrying signs with slogans like “Protect Our Patients” and “Safety First,” marched down the sidewalk near Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.

Every so often, drivers in passing cars would honk their horns. The marchers cheered in response.

“Why are you guys protesting?” one young woman called out the back window of a car. A couple minutes later, the car came back and pulled over to the side of Bruce Street while Amy Dawn, a nurse at Avera Marshall, talked with the occupants.

“Our concern is about safe patient practices,” Dawn explained.

Avera Marshall nurses and community members took part in an informational picket on Thursday. Jon Tollefson, a labor relations specialist with the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA), estimated more than 60 people showed up to march.

Nurses said they were raising awareness of concerns including reduced staffing and nurses not getting enough training. In a statement released Wednesday, Avera Marshall officials said they disagreed.

Nurses at the informational picket said they had concerns about patient care and safe staffing at Avera Marshall, especially after restructuring when Avera Marshall integrated with the former Carris Health clinic in Marshall. Some talked about concerns with staffing levels.

“We should have enough staff to take care of all our patients safely,” Dawn said. If there aren’t enough nurses working, it’s harder to make sure all patients are getting the care they need, she said.

Other nurses at the picket said they had concerns about the restructuring. They said nurses were working rotations in departments they were inexperienced with, like urgent care, and not getting enough training for it.

“Training is necessary, and keeping people within their specialty is safe patient care,” said Kristina Swan, a nurse at Avera Marshall.

Dawn said experience and training was important for urgent care, because a nurse needs to be able to recognize when a patient needs to go to the emergency room.

In a statement released Wednesday, Avera Marshall officials said employees hadn’t yet brought patient care concerns forward to them.

“We respect our MNA-represented employees’ right to speak out on issues of importance to them,” Avera Marshall Regional President and CEO Mary Maertens said in the statement. “While we disagree with their position in this instance, we will never lose sight of the larger reality that our nurses are skilled professionals who are an essential part of the care we provide. If they — or any employee — have any safety concerns, we hope they’ll bring them forward to be addressed; to this point, they have not done so. Our patients and visitors can be assured that this informational picket will have no impact on the high-quality care we provide.”

Jenna Erickson, a nurse at Avera Marshall, said picketers hoped the event would encourage community members to ask questions, and bring concerns to officials like the hospital board, and Avera Marshall’s quality department.

“We want people to know there are questions they should be asking,” Erickson said.