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Tuscaloosa VA nurses protest for flexible scheduling, address staffing concerns

The protest coincides with two other protests taking place today in Atlanta and Augusta.

VA nurses protest in Brooklyn.
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Nurses at the Tuscaloosa VA are protesting Thursday morning amid a staffing crisis they say has led to veterans not being able to get the care they need.

Jennifer Giles, a nurse in the acute psychiatric unit, speaking on behalf of National Nurses United, said the VA’s staffing issues have led to the hospital to only utilize one of its two psychiatric units.

“Veterans experiencing a behavioral or mental health crisis are looking for these beds,” Giles said. “The staff here is specially trained for treatment of veterans with conditions specifically related to military service.”

Giles said more incentives are needed to recruit and retain nurses for the VA to function properly.

“The regional leadership, both at TVAMC and in the Southeast with VISN 7, need to demonstrate they are wholly committed to the highest quality of care for the veterans we serve,” Giles said. “That is not achieved when experienced nurses are leaving in record numbers because they are disillusioned by the leadership that is not making the necessary changes quickly enough so that nurses can provide the highest quality of care. We know that if we have better working conditions, including better staffing and flexible schedules, we will be better able to recruit and retain experienced nurses to care for our veterans.”

VA Press Secretary Terrance Hayes responded to the protest in a statement Wednesday, saying the VA values its nurses and is advocating for better pay and bonuses.

“One of VA’s top priorities right now is recruiting, hiring, and retaining our great nurses,” Haynes said. “To do that, VA has advocated strongly for the PACT Act and RAISE Act — both of which have given us increased authorities to raise pay caps for VA nurses across the country. We have also maximized bonuses and retention incentives to reward VA nurses for their excellent work and keep them at VA, where they belong.

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“We will continue to work together with our valued labor partners to provide the best possible work experience for VA’s nurses, so they can deliver the best possible health care to the Veterans we serve.”

Giles said flexible scheduling is already established at other VAs across the country and makes the Tuscaloosa VA a less viable employer.

“Flexible scheduling is already the standard at many other hospitals in the area, and flexible scheduling will prevent more nurses from leaving and make our facility more competitive in attracting experienced nurses,” Giles said. 

The protest aligns with two others taking place simultaneously in Atlanta and Augusta. Nurses are also calling on the regional directors to encourage VA Secretary Denis R. McDonough to sign the master contract with the NNU nurses. This contract was agreed upon in 2018 with the help of the Federal Service Impasse Panel.

NNU represents more than 12,000 registered nurses at 23 VA facilities across the country, including 185 in Tuscaloosa, 560 in Augusta, and over 900 in Atlanta. 

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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