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Healthcare professionals demand Sparrow halts downsizing of specialists

Sparrow Hospital
WKAR File Photo
WKAR File Photo

Hundreds of healthcare professionals in Lansing have signed a petition demanding Sparrow Health System halt a reduction in staff. Workers say it would displace more than a third of a specialty department.

Sparrow’s planned reduction on Oct. 23 would affect its IV Specialty Department. The team has 11 nurses who operate 24/7, serving a 500-plus bed hospital.

On Sept. 23, Sparrow Health System announced they would be laying off hundreds of staffciting an operating loss of $90 million for the first half of 2022. The provider pointed to the rising cost of supplies, salaries, wages, and benefits as other contributing factors.

"I know that changes have to be made," Laura Marciniak said, "but I feel like it could be made away from the bedside, you know, patients first is Sparrow's model. And when you take away special teams, that's not putting patients first," she said.

Marciniak is a registered nurse who’s worked in the IVSD department for 19 of her 23 year-long career with Sparrow. She said they were notified three full-time positions will be eliminated and the benefits of one employee will also be eliminated. Per diem staff won’t be able to pick up additional hours either.

Marciniak said the team serves every area of the hospital from the emergency room, to surgery, pediatrics, and all in-patients.

“If we are not there to provide that IV, these patients are going to wait longer times for care, they’re going to be poked, and experience increased pain levels,” she said, “one from the poking, two from not being able to receive pain medication quickly.”

Marciniak adds IVSD nurses play other critical roles like monitoring and maintaining IV lines to reduce bloodstream infections, which can be expensive and carry high mortality rates.

“Us being able to lay eyes on those lines everyday has reduced the amount of bloodstream infections from lines to almost zero, we had a higher number last year,” she said.

Jennifer Little is an IVSD nurse at Sparrow. She said the department is tasked with reducing central line-associated bloodstream infections, known as CLABSIs.

“They carry a mortality rate of 10 to 30% [according to Sparrow’s accreditation body]. Per the [U.S.] Department of Health and Human Services, they can cost anywhere from $18,000 to about $95,000 to treat each one of them,” Little said. She adds a number of those infections are not reimbursable by insurance and Sparrow will likely have to eat the cost.

This the third time in Marciniak’s career that she said she’s experienced a staff reduction, but this is the most drastic she's seen.

“Each time within a few months to a year they are bringing the positions back because they have enough negative outcomes because they realize the team needs to be fully staffed, and now we try again,” Marciniak said. "My hope is we get through and they don’t actually make this cut but if they do, I foresee negative outcomes.”

Little was previously let go during one of those rounds of layoffs and was rehired a year later.

“I can’t predict what’s going to happen after this reduction, all I have is precedent,” she said. “The couple of times our team has been reduced ultimately has resulted in the hospital asking us to come back or offering our positions back due to negative patient outcomes. It's troubling to me that it takes that happening for the decision to be made.”

Little said she usually sees 50 consults a day on average. She said there are typically three to four nurses working on weekdays, and two during the weekends with one nurse working during the nightshift on weekdays and weekends. A reduction would see coverage halved.

“We’re looking at two nurses during the day during the week, and one during the day on weekends,” Little said.

The petition demands that Sparrow halt staffing reductions with the IVSD nurses until an assessment is provided by the department of Risk Management to the Professional Employees Council of Sparrow Hospital that confirms staffing measures are adequate.

"Sparrow's mission is to improve the health of the people in our communities by providing quality, compassionate care to everyone, every time. With 1 IV nurse per shift, Sparrow is cutting vitally important services to our patients, potentially leaving them in vulnerable situations," part of the petition states.

Little adds they will no longer offer night assistance after 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and after 7:30 p.m. on weekends.

“We serve a 500-plus bed hospital as a team of eleven, that number of patients isn’t going to go down despite the number of staff we have,” she said. “So, as you can imagine, less staff just means we’re going to end up seeing more patients.”

Little says she’s concerned it will take longer for patients to receive care, which will lead to negative outcomes. She adds the reduction would also lead to burnout among nurses.

“All of these delays, ultimately are not giving the patient what they need in a timely manner and nurses are stressed by that, nurses are frustrated by those delays,” she said.

In a statement, Sparrow spokesperson John Foren says the provider has been transparent in communicating financial challenges facing Sparrow. He said in response the provider has restructured the IV team's available hours and duties.

"During this restructure, we have retained all nurses who were members of our Specialized IV Team within E.W. Sparrow Hospital. We have shifted our resources to meet the needs of our patients during peak volume times while maintaining coverage seven days a week," Foren said.

Foren mentioned the safety and security of patients and caregivers remains their top priority.

"Our mission continues to be to improve the health of the people in our communities by providing quality, compassionate care to everyone, every time," he said.

Melorie Begay is WKAR-FM's weekend host and a general assignment reporter.
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