I have written frequently about a health-care crisis that the recently enacted ObamaCare reform bill did not address, nor was intended to address: The crisis in nursing in American hospitals.
The moment that the crisis went from being worrisome to dire was when hospital administrators stopped considering nurses to be care givers and they became "cost centers." It's not possible to pinpoint exactly when that metamorphosis occurred. Ten or 12 years ago is close enough, but the consequences have been all too apparent.
More nurses are leaving the profession than entering it because of the plantation mentality of many hospital administrators, which manifests itself in mandatory overtime, patient overload and burnout, among other things. Meanwhile, the workforce is getting older and grayer, pay raises are fewer and farther between, and only a relatively small percentage of nurses have health insurance, let alone other benefits.
All that although nurses are what make hospitals tick, especially went it comes to direct, around-the-clock care of the most seriously ill patients.
The dire straits in which nurses find themselves was nowhere more evident this week than in Philadelphia where 1,500 nurses and other professionals went out on strike at Temple University Hospital over pay and benefits issues and to protest a proposed "gag clause" under which they could be disciplined or fired if the hospital believes they made a publicly disparaging comment about the hospital. In other words, reporting of unsafe care or advocacy of patients.
The hospital's response? It hired 850 highly-paid scabs and sent out Robert Birnbrauer, the head of Temple's human resources department, with this message:
"If you want your constitutional rights, you need to go somewhere else."
Birnbrauer is, in fact, correct, but his boastful push back at the strikers is a painful reminder of how inconsequential these "cost centers" have become in the eyes of the people who run hospitals.