State-Run Hospitals Short Of Nurses
October 17, 2001
By HILARY WALDMAN, Courant Staff Writer
Every Sunday morning for at least the last three months, Connecticut Valley Hospital nursing supervisor Althea Clarke has had to tell a subordinate who worked all night that she must forgo church and family dinner to work another shift.
Forced overtime is the result of an acute nursing shortage that has hit state-run hospitals, such as Connecticut Valley, especially hard.
So far, the shortage has dampened nurses' morale and forced those who remain in the state system to work harder, leaders of the state's health care workers union said Tuesday.
But if the state does not come up with money to boost nursing salaries in state hospitals, the shortage is likely to threaten patient care, union leaders warned.
Clarke pointed to poster boards displaying scores of pretty recruitment invitations sent by private-sector hospitals to nurses in state institutions every week.
The private hospitals, also hurting for nurses, offer signing bonuses, good benefits and higher pay than the state facilities.
Cynthia Mortrud, a registered nurse at CVH, says she continues to work at the state-run psychiatric hospital in Middletown because she is dedicated to caring for the sickest people with the fewest resources.
But Mortrud and other state nurses who gathered at a union-sponsored rally on the hospital grounds cautioned that competition from private hospitals and career opportunities for nurses in businesses, such as insurance, are making it very difficult for the state to care for its neediest residents.
Connecticut employs 1,800 nurses, most in state psychiatric hospitals, institutions and group homes for people with mental retardation, facilities for troubled children and the state prisons.
Several state legislators who attended the rally promised to continue with ongoing efforts at the Capitol to attract more students into nursing schools, entice trained nurses not working in hospitals to return to the bedside, and improve working conditions for nurses.
"We'll be working right alongside you in the legislature," said state Rep. James O'Rourke, D-Cromwell.