Kansas City nurses at Research Medical Center organized Thursday to publicly denounce staffing levels in the hospital that they believe are creating an unsafe environment for patients and employees.

Concerned with “dire” staffing levels that have led to an environment they believe is unsafe, Kansas City nurses on Thursday protested at Research Medical Center for the hiring of more workers to serve patients.

Organized by local members of the National Nurses Organizing Committee, the country’s largest workers union for registered nurses, demonstrators pointed to a situation where nurses are in short supply because they are leaving the profession out of frustration.

They also say the nurse shortage, a problem being seen across the nation, is part of a “manufactured” crisis that stems from corporate healthcare executives caring more about the bottom line than the health of their patients.

“We are seeing staffing that is not at the level that is safe for patients and for nurses,” said Jennifer Caldwell, among the roughly 35 who held signs and chanted on the sidewalk outside her workplace at Research Medical Center in Kansas City.

Referencing a nurse-to-patient ratio that has gotten “increasingly worse since 2020,” Caldwell, a nurse in the intensive care unit at Research for 5 years, said there need to be national standards set for hospitals. She added that workforce pressures created in the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 pandemic should no longer stand as an excuse for low staffing levels.

“We can’t hide behind COVID anymore,” Caldwell said. “They’re hiring nurses. They’re just not retaining them.”

The concerns raised at Thursday’s demonstration all came from employees of HCA Midwest Health, which runs seven hospitals in the greater Kansas City area. It came amid a national campaign raised by the nurses union.

In response to a request for comment from The Star on Thursday, HCA Midwest Health spokeswoman Christine Hamele said the national union was making “inaccurate, misleading and counterproductive claims.”

“Research Medical Center has a rich history of providing high-quality, safe and compassionate healthcare for more than 135 years,” Hamele said in a statement. “We take great pride in the numerous quality and patient care awards we’ve earned from reputable, independent healthcare organizations.”

Hamele said the company is proud of its “significant investments and results of recruitment efforts,” saying they provide competitive pay, meaningful opportunities for career growth and programs to support the well-being of employees. She also noted that Research was recently named among the nation’s 250 top hospitals by Healthgrades for overall excellence in clinical performance for the second year straight.

“Earning these prestigious awards would not be possible without the dedicated caregivers and leaders who day in and out are committed to providing best care to our patients,” Hamele said, adding: “While this labor union continues to engage in these kinds of tactics, Research Medical Center continues to focus on fostering a collaborative, positive and supportive workplace where caregivers can thrive.”

The public display came on the heels of a vote of no confidence by union members in the leadership of some of their chief nursing officers.

Meanwhile, the nurses say they have brought these issues to light internally to no avail.

“We’ve tried meetings with management, demonstrations like this one, advocating, and things continue to get worse,” said Zo Schmidt, a medical care nurse.

“When I started, I would have four patients on average a day. Now I have six. In addition to those six, the charge nurse, who should be a resource on the floor to help us out, now often has their own team of six patients.

“It’s just increasingly getting dire,” added Schmidt, who has worked at Research for 4 ½ years. “And I believe that it’s my duty to advocate for my patients as a nurse.”

One of the biggest issues raised by the local nurses at Research was employee retention. They say they are watching some colleagues — who all love the jobs they do — leave the profession entirely because of the pressures of the industry.

As they look toward providing a fix, some pointed to a model in California, the only state with a strict law that enforces a minimum ratio of patients to nurses that hospitals are required to maintain. Failure to abide by the regulations can result in costly penalties issued by the state health department.

“Hospitals do it because they don’t want to pay fines. If you hit them in their pocket, then they don’t like it,” said Cheryl Rodarmel, also a Research nurse.

Missouri lawmakers started their latest legislative session this month. Rodarmel says she looks forward to advocacy for change being brought to Jefferson City by the union and hopes to see action from elected officials.

And as for the current state of affairs at Research, Rodarmel benefits from a wealth of experience when looking at the staffing concerns. She’s worked there for 30 years.

“I know that it can be better, and it should be better,” she said.

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Bill Lukitsch covers breaking news for The Star. Before joining The Star, he covered politics and local government for the Quad-City Times.

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