Men and women donning bright red shirts and blue scrubs dotted 59th Street West in front of Blake Medical Center as the sun rose Thursday.
More than two dozen registered nurses and their supporters paced the sidewalk between 6 and 8 a.m. chanting and holding signs that read “Patients are our #1 priority” and encouraging management to address turnover in nursing staff and comply with staffing guidelines as part of ongoing contract negotiations.
Their voices, and the occasional blaring of a car horn, filled the early-morning air with shouts of “We are the nurses, the mighty, mighty nurses. Out here for our patients, out here for our contracts.”
Their contract expired May 31, and negotiations are ongoing, according to National Nurses United and the National Nurses Organizing Committee, the union that organized Thursday’s picket.
Patsy Ernst, a registered nurse at Blake for 23 years, said they meet a couple of days a month for negotiations and there are some areas in which they are “not making a lot of progress.”
“We’re out here because we care about our community. A lot of us live and work here in Bradenton. I grew up here. My parents, my best friend, my husband have all been patients at this hospital, so we care about our community. We want to make sure we give them the best care possible and so we want to ensure that with our next contract,” said Candice Cordero, a registered nurse who has worked at Blake Medical Center for 17 years.
Part of ensuring patients get the best care is appropriate staffing levels, nurses said Thursday. But they said there is an issue with turnover rate Blake Medical Center in nursing staff, with many moving on after a short amount of time at the hospital.
At Blake, more than 40 percent of RNs have worked there less than 18 months and more than 55 percent less than three years, according to data obtained from Blake by National Nurses United and the National Nurses Organizing Committee.
“We hire nurses, we train them, we spend a lot of time and then if they don’t stay, you’re back to where you were with holes in the schedule and it just creates a lot of problems,” Ernst said.
“When we train new nurses we want them to stay here and learn and grow and take care of our town and not go somewhere else,” Cordero said.
Ernst believes fixing nurses wages — which she said are currently below the national average — and staffing levels will help with retention and, in turn, patient care.
“Blake Medical Center is very proud of our nurses and the culture we have developed at our hospital, which is based upon open communication, and the exceptional care we provide to patients. We continue to earn national honors for quality and safe patient care,” Melissa Morgan, director of marketing and public relations at Blake Medical Center, said in an email statement sent to the Bradenton Herald by another hospital official.
Morgan noted the hospital has earned multiple Gold Seal of Approval certifications and national recognition from multiple commissions, associations and colleges that are in “direct correlation to the dedication of Blake Medical Center’s caring and highly skilled nurses, support staff, physicians and the high quality of care we provide.”
In January, several of Blake’s units were considered “out of compliance” with hospital staffing grids , according to data from the hospital provided to the nurse’s union.
“Nursing has had shortages over time. It’s just gotten worse recently and we seem to be losing nurses to other places where staffing and wages are better. We want to bring it up the par and be the place to be,” Cordero said.
As of Thursday, there were 41 positions matching a search for professional nursing jobs at Blake Medical Center on the hospital’s website.
“It is unfortunate, but not unusual, to see tactics like this when a union and an employer are engaged in contract negotiations, as we are with this union. We want to ensure that our community understands that neither this — nor any other action — will ever come between us and our commitment to the high quality care and services we offer our patients and this community on a daily basis,” Morgan’s email said.
A call to Blake officials for follow-up questions on the emailed statement was not immediately returned.
Nurses said Thursday the next negotiation date is Friday.
Similar pickets were also planned for Thursday at HCA Healthcare-affiliated hospitals in Kissimmee and Brooskville, and at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota.