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McCabe denies that nurses are being required to attend meetings on the subject of organizing, as Barnett implied during her speech at the rally.
"We meet with the firm, and they meet with the nurse managers and people who need to be educated on the regulations," McCabe says. "They're not meeting with the nurses who are deciding whether or not to join."
Although issues related to the union campaign are an essential part of Nurses United's activities, Barnett says, it's important not to lose sight of the organization's ultimate goal.
"A lot of times you get bad press about unions, and that all they want is more money, but nurses didn't go into their profession to make a whole lot of money," she says. "It's definitely about helping the patients get the care they need. With the costs so high and the quality so low, they're not getting what they deserve as human beings."
Barnett says that the conflict comes down to the question of patient care, and she says that overworked and understaffed teams of nurses can't provide the standard of care that they feel they should be able to give.
"They don't feel good about themselves when they go home, because they really haven't given the care they want to give, and they struggle with that internally," Barnett says. "More and more people leave the profession every day because of that, and because of liability issues that hospitals don't address."
"The connection here is the patient issues," says Community Coalition coordinator Katie Phelan. "We know patient care is going down because of short staffing, long hours, and a shortage of supplies. There's kind of a natural union between the nurses and the community because the nurses are saying Health Midwest needs to care about its nurses and its patients, and the community is saying it needs to care about its patients and its nurses."
McCabe says she prefers that employees take their grievances to Health Midwest directly.
"We definitely hope that any Health Midwest employees can come to us with any concern they have," she says. "We're in the business of patient care, and we plan to continue to provide a high standard of patient care. We would love to be able to work things out with the nurses involved. That's been our goal, and continues to be our goal."
At the rally, Sharon Apel, a registered nurse at Research Medical Center, told the gathering, "In all my 30 years of nursing experience, I have never seen the quality of care as compromised as it is at this point in time."
Her sentiments were echoed by several other speakers, including Barnett, who referred to a "national healthcare crisis" and cited cost-containment measures, managed care, merging health systems, and market-driven competition as the roots of the problem and increasing nurse-to-patient ratios and "an all-time high workload" for registered nurses as the effects.
Barnett painted a similarly grim picture in December, when she testified before the Interim Committee on Quality Nursing Services and Patient Care in the Missouri House of Representatives. She referred to a recent study that revealed that the number of patients who die each year as the result of injuries caused by errors during hospital treatment is at an all-time high. Barnett called for the state to protect whistle-blowers to ensure healthcare workers' rights to speak out about quality concerns without fear of reprisal and she lobbied for a ban on mandatory overtime for healthcare workers.