Updated: Aug 19
Andrea "Drea" Muir, RN, serves as the vice president of Sharp Professional Nurses Network. She has been a registered nurse for almost 12 years. At the opening of Sharp bargaining on July 6, she brought many of her colleagues to tears with her powerful opening remarks. She shared the experiences of Sharp nurses as heroes working through the pandemic with the context of our pre-pandemic struggles.
"Despite the harrowing conditions, I never lost faith that our patients would receive the best care possible from myself and my colleagues. Many people, myself included, added on for extra shifts despite being depleted, wanting to prop up the working conditions of our colleagues as much as we possibly could.
"Not only is it often physically strenuous work caring for COVID patients—while wearing essentially an unbreathable garbage bag with arm and neck holes—but it was emotionally taxing as well to do everything in our considerable power and knowledge to help sustain a person, and have it not be enough.
"There were several times I came home after a 12- or 16-hour shift and vomited from exhaustion. Unsurprisingly, I was not unique in any of this. I once spent 30 minutes in the staff lounge consoling a fellow nurse who had lost three of her family members to COVID in one week. But despite her grief and frustration and turmoil, she didn’t call out for bereavement because she knew it would leave the rest of us short-handed. As she put it, 'I may as well be sad here, and help out at the same time.' She finished crying and went back to work. This describes the heart and commitment that lives in those at the core of our workplace.
"One of our members who is here today, Danny Plata, suffered an exposure while doing compressions on a COVID patient. He has not been able to return to work since his own severe COVID illness, but he is still our colleague and our friend just as he was during his two months in Sharp Memorial ICU. Now, his main concern is getting healthy again, so he can return to work and help out his Sharp Chula Vista co-workers, who are struggling under the weight of severe turnover and rampant burnout. During one week early on in the pandemic, I heard from traumatized ICU colleagues who lost 10 patients in one shift.
"To achieve real, lasting improvements that will correct the shortcomings that have led us here, it will require Sharp HealthCare to take a long hard look at itself, and at both the covert and overt ways it has historically disregarded concerns of our nurses' union, and commit to changing their paradigm. This may be uncomfortable at times, but it is necessary for the future of Sharp, our nurses, and health care as a whole in our region. As the pandemic has shown us, it is impossible to control everything even in our highly-controlled work environment. However, if Sharp is serious about preventing burnout and improving retention, then this is all the more reason to focus on correcting the negative aspects of our workplace as much as possible."
Drea Muir then asked all of her fellow nurses in the room: "Please raise a hand if at any point you were afraid for your life, your health, or your family because of your workplace over the last few years"
"As you can see, every practicing nurse in this room, and presumably beyond, has been very uncomfortable before and during this pandemic. It’s high time Sharp exit their comfort zone when interacting with us. This labor-management relationship is not all about Sharp’s needs, your margins, or even your image. Sometimes, it’s about your workers, the so-called 'health care heroes' from every hospital system marketing campaign in recent memory, who actually do the work as needed, allow your margins, and prop up your image. This is one of those times."