Nurse walkout ends forced overtime at DC hospital

Nurses at Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC, are still savoring a victory over management following a one-day walkout in October that nearly halted all clinical operations at the renowned 300-bed, not-for-profit institution.

Nurses have won most of their labor demands from management, and are in the process of bettering relations with administration, according to Cristol Primas, RN, a clinical nurses specialist, who helped organize the job action.

The walkout in late October by some 400 nurses, pharmacists, dietitians, and social workers effectively ended a three-year pattern of sudden mandatory overtime, low wages, and inadequate nurse staffing, Primas says.

Most of the nurses belong to the DC Nurses Association, a local union with a chapter at Howard University.

Following the job action, the hospital agreed to stop the practice of forcing nurses to work overtime. It also agreed to improve staffing levels by hiring new nurses and contracting with more reliable nurse registries.

Management and staff recently agreed to a 2% pay rise, retroactive to July, and a 5% increase over the next two years.

Among those leading the charge in the dispute were the hospital’s critical care nurses, who according to Primas, have long complained about dangerously low staffing levels in the hospital’s 12-bed surgical ICU and five-bed critical care unit.

"Things were so bad there that registry nurses who worked those units refused to come back for another shift," Primas says. On most days, Primas adds, staffing ratios ranged around one nurse to six or eight patients.

Staffing ratios have since fallen but have not yet reached the 1-to-2 national average, Primas says.

A hospital spokeswoman did not return calls requesting information.