Workers voice ills outside VA

Chanting "Hey hey, ho ho, unsafe staffing's got to go," registered nurses and others at Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center staged an informational picket Wednesday to protest what they say is a lack of staffers and unreasonable reassignments.

Linda Carter, a steward for National Nurses Union Local 509, said she was handed a letter Aug. 23 telling her she was no longer an admissions nurse but would be working in the telemetry unit, where three RNs had recently departed.

"You tell me how magically I'm supposed to make up (for three positions)," she said. "The unit manager didn't even know I was coming."

It is like that all over the hospital, where the union says 107 RN positions have been reassigned or relocated. Many of those clinic or outpatient nurses have had floor duties added without adequate retraining, said Ron Schnebelt, an RN in the Spinal Cord Injury Unit and a steward for the union. Some of those nurses have not worked a floor in 20 to 30 years, he said.

It is not just the RNs but all other workers are short-staffed too, said Charles Day, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 217, which represents the rest of the VA union personnel and supported the protest.

"It's all interconnected," he said.

The staff complained to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and asked for a meeting, but when Isakson came to Augusta recently he did not talk to them, Carter said.

In a statement, Augusta VA Director Rebecca Wiley said the nurses are valued.

"Currently we are meeting with the union to address their concerns; and we are also in the process of examining in detail work schedules in an effort to appropriately assess and align nurses in the most effective areas where their services and expertise are required," she said.

Schnebelt said no such dialogue is taking place, however.

"We're really not being told much of anything," Carter said. "There's been minimal dialogue between the administration and the RNs."

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