Serious Staffing Shortages Revealed at Vassar

By Jennifer L. Warren

POUGHKEEPSIE – “A building does not provide healthcare-people do.”

Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson emphasized as he pointed to the new structure, part of Vassar Brothers Medical Center Campus, directly behind him. Surrounded by union members from the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and 1199 SEIU as well as some other local elected officials, Jacobson, who has advocated for safe staffing at Vassar as well as helped pass two new bills for that safe staffing in other hospitals as well as nursing homes, was outraged by the growing deficits at Vassar, along with the horrific tales associated with their consequences that staff at the facility has endured.

“This is a beautiful building, but it does not provide health care-the staff does,” continued a visibly upset Jacobson as he glanced at the new, nearby building at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Reade Place in the City of Poughkeepsie. “Without staff, this building is merely steel, glass and wood; it is not a hospital.”

What Vassar Brothers Medical Center has evolved into for many who work there is a potentially dangerous place that is on the verge of creating even further safety issues for both the staff and the patients who depend upon their skilled care.

“Without enough staff, this building does not provide quality healthcare,” affirmed Jacobson.

The gap in that level of healthcare at Vassar was highlighted by Jacobson as well as several nurses who spoke after him. Once promised they would never have more than seven patients on a shift to care for, several examples of nurses carrying ten or more patients per shift were revealed. The result has been nurses stretched to their limits, unable to provide the quality care each of their patients deserve. Additionally, disturbing examples of long lines of patients left waiting in emergency room hallways was detailed; at times staff has observed close to 100 patients at a stalemate, just waiting for someone to get to them.

Still other instances of huge time delays associated with having to senselessly transport patients from one building to another were indicated. And the list of concerns went on.

They are issues that Jacobson has presented via a letter to Vassar Brothers Medical Center’s owners, NUVANCE, in the past, who claimed they would meet staffing laws by the end of the year. However, little, if any, movement has been made toward change. The result: A need to push even harder now.

“Today, I am demanding immediate action by Vassar Brothers Medical Center to end the staff shortages at the facility,” exclaimed Jacobson toward the end of his remarks. “It’s time to put patients ahead of profits and end the staffing shortages now.”

In addition to Jacobson speaking, several members of Vassar Hospital also provided startling insights into the harsh realities they experience on a daily basis in their compromised work environment.

“We are frustrated and have serious safety concerns when we do our work; we just don’t have the manpower to give you the best care we would if we were fully staffed,” said Charvelle Latty, who works as a Patient Tech in the Emergency Department. “This used to be a place everyone wanted to come to work, but now it is just the opposite.”

Another nurse was quick to cite that this shortage has nothing to do with COVID.

“I want to be clear: We are not short staffed because of COVID,” affirmed Sheilah, Ennist, a Patient Caretech II at Vassar. “Some things have improved here, but staffing is definitely not one of them, and we are not getting paid for what we do; we just need to be appreciated.”

Although there is no definitive movement by NUVANCE to bring that desperately needed staff to Vassar, there was a spark of hope through the power of prayer provided by Bishop Debra Gause of Holy Light Pentacostal Church for a better tomorrow.

“This is a prayer that laborers will be sent and come forth,” said Gause. “Lord we need your help; Poughkeepsie, we ask you not to be discouraged…help is on the way.”

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