Metro Detroit hospitals began to get overwhelmed with a surge of coronavirus patients starting last month. Local media at that time documented an increasingly chaotic situation at the city's Sinai-grace Hospital where patient rooms were filled with gowns and trash strewn across dirty floors — this as even cleaning crews weren't allowed in rooms, fearing exposure.
Already at that point emergency room nurses said they were "exhausted" and feared they and their families would get infected. But this week things came to a head with hospital administration when ER nursing staff demanded more nurses be added to their overrun facilities. They say in some instances only two nurses care for 26 patients, including ten on ventilators.
CNN reports that a dramatic standoff endued: "The night shift ER nurses at Sinai-Grace Hospital refused to leave the break room until hospital administrators brought in more nurses to help out, a physician at the hospital told CNN."
"Hospital administrators decided, after four hours of deliberation, they would not be bringing in any more nurses to help and that the nurses could get to work or leave the hospital, the doctor said," the report continues. Some did depart at that point, though it's unclear if the hospital will terminate their employment - it's presumed so.
One of the nurses later described of the confrontation with their bosses, "Tonight, it was the breaking point for us" — after for three straight weeks the ER had over 110 patients, at max capacity or more every night.
"Because we cannot safely take care of your loved ones out here with just six, seven nurses and multiple (ventilators) and multiple people on drips. It's not right. We had two nurses the other day who had 26 patients with 10 (ventilators)," ER nurse Sal Hadwan said.
Sinai-Grace hospital leaders fired back, however, saying in a statement:
"We are disappointed that last night a very small number of nurses at Sinai-Grace Hospital staged a work stoppage in the hospital refusing to care for patients," Detroit Medical Center Communications Manager Jason Barczy told CNN. "Despite this, our patients continued to receive the care they needed as other dedicated nurses stepped in to provide care."
The statement placed the blame on the nurses for "refusing to care for patients," which is likely to add fuel to the fire.
The nurses claim that in some instances shift nurses work for a 24-hour period, due to a shortage of necessary personnel for any given day or night crew. Sinai-Grace is located in Detroit's hardest-hit northwest section of Detroit.
The incident prompted the Michigan Nurses Association to weigh in, saying in a statement, "Eventually, a tipping point is reached where the best thing any RN can do for their patients, their families, and their coworkers is to speak out rather than remain silent."
Controversy ensued over whether the nurses essentially abandoned their patients or legitimately feared existing dangerous conditions make it impossible to continue.
Social media video reportedly showing some of the nurses who had walked out after the "sit-in" confrontation:
Sinai Grace Detroit night nurses were told to leave because they refused to work under unsafe conditions. Please stop spreading false information about those hardworking people. #Covid19 #CoronaVirus https://t.co/Q9HloUm81C— Anu (Mary) (@HechoEnAfrica) April 6, 2020
The largest union for registered nurses in the state continued in its statement: "Until hospitals start taking the concerns of nurses seriously, it's only a matter of time before more actions like these occur. It is absolutely essential that hospitals start working with nurses and stop silencing our voices."
This would indeed be a tipping point, also as hospitals and clinics face an unprecedented shortage in personal protective equipment, making the risk to front line responder even more difficult.