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‘We’re all burned out’: VA workers rally outside hospital over staffing shortages

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Union members with American Federation of Government Employees Local 2152 held two rallies Friday highlighting staffing shortages at the local Veterans Administration hospital and those nationwide. 

Union representatives and supporters stood in front of the Reno VA Medical Center on Kirman Avenue from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and again from 11 to 12:30 p.m. Holding signs and chanting slogans, demonstrators there wanted to make people aware of how bad the staffing shortages across the country, and especially in Reno, are. 

“It’s never been fully staffed, but the pandemic certainly has really exacerbated the problem,” said Jeanine Packham, a vice president at the union. “I think the pandemic has really shown the weaknesses, how fragile our healthcare system is, especially nursing staff.”

When asked about the number one reason nurses are leaving, Packham said there just aren’t enough staff members and it affects the wellbeing of those currently working. 

Talking to other people at the rally, the consensus was that nurses want to continue helping veterans who served their country. They added that, due to staffing shortages, the VA ends up sending a lot of veterans to community care where providers may not spend sufficient time with patients like they would at the VA Medical Center. 

“This VA has been consistently for several years the bottom 4% of the nation as far as nurse retention,” said Packham. “It’s hard, we lean on each other, we’re all burned out [and] we see each other burned out.”

A statement was issued by Ryan Coverdell for the VA Medical Center regarding the protests. 

“VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System’s current staffing levels afford us the opportunity to provide safe and quality healthcare for America’s heroes. Recently our Medical Center Director shared a message with all staff that provided some information of the many initiatives in fiscal year 2022 alone that support our staff in a number of different ways. Recruitment of talent is a universal challenge for healthcare organizations, public and private. VA continues to use the many recruitment, retention and relocation strategies that bring new talent to our team of professionals. Passionate and dedicated is how we describe our outstanding team and we will continue, together, to provide Veterans with the world class care they deserve.”

Since the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017, the VA Office of Inspector General is supposed to determine annually at least five clinical and five non-clinical occupations with the largest staffing shortages at each medical center. 

According to the VA’s inspector general report, there were more than 2,600 severe occupational staffing shortages across 285 occupations in 2022. The previous year, that number was closer to 2,100 across 256 occupations. 

Licensed practical nurses were the most reported clinical occupation with severe staffing shortages and custodial worker was the most reported non-clinical occupation. 

Across the country, 87% of VA facilities reported severe occupational staffing shortages for medical officers whereas 91% of facilities had the same reports but for nurses. 

The OIG’s office surveyed 139 facilities and reported at least one severe occupational staffing shortage in each facility. The previous year, the number of facilities to report at least one staffing shortage was 136. 

Union members with American Federation of Government Employees Local 2152 held two rallies Friday highlighting staffing shortages at the local Veterans Administration hospital and those nationwide. Image: Mark Hernandez / This Is Reno, Jan. 13, 2023.
Union members with American Federation of Government Employees Local 2152 held two rallies Friday highlighting staffing shortages at the local Veterans Administration hospital and those nationwide. Image: Mark Hernandez / This Is Reno, Jan. 13, 2023.

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Mark Hernandez
Mark Hernandez
Mark was born in Mexico, grew up in Carson City, and has recently returned to Reno to continue to explore and get to know the city again. He got his journalism degree in 2018 and wants to continue learning photography for both business and pleasure. Languages and history are topics he likes to discuss as well as deplete any coffee reservoirs in close proximity.

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