LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Nurses from Sparrow Hospital’s emergency department said hiring and retention issues are making it hard to keep up with high patient numbers.

Nurses 6 News spoke with said the patient-to-nurse ratio is just not safe, and it’s not getting better.
One nurse said seasoned professionals are leaving the industry and the shifts for the people who stay are exhausting.

“They have a passion for it, they want to take care of people during their worst moments and do it in the very best way they can and people are tired,” said nurse Jennifer Ackley.

Emergency Department nurse Jennifer Ackley has been working at Sparrow Hospital for well over a decade. She said pressure from high patient numbers has put a strain on experienced ER nurses and other health care professionals.

Nurses said shuttered units are keeping patients in other departments like the ER. The president of the hospital’s nurses’ union said studies show the safest nurse-to-in-patient ratio is one to three.

“Or one to one in a trauma situation and especially on our night shift, we’re seeing and hearing from our nurses in the ER that they are taking an upward of 12 to a piece,” said Katie Pontifex, President of the Michigan Nurses Association – Professional Employee Council of Sparrow Hospital.

She said the unsafe conditions adds pressure to retention and hiring issues. Dr. Denny Martin, Interim President of Sparrow Hospital acknowledges the challenges facing staff. He said two nursing units were closed last month due to staffing levels. and he expects to spend more than $45 million to hire outside nurses, around $4 million was spent before the pandemic.

“If there was more staff to work here those ratios would be better,” Martin said.

Martin said administration leaders are looking into new avenues to help bring in new talent. One program is working with universities to connect medical students to job placements after their training is completed. On retention, he said leaders are offering bonuses to current staff for taking on additional shifts.

He stresses it’s not just Sparrow; that the conditions reflects the reality of the pressures and high costs in health care nationwide.

Dr. Martin said a new stand-alone emergency department in Okemos will open sometime in September. He hopes that will drive down patient numbers at the main emergency department in Lansing.