Johns Hopkins nurses issued a series of damming reports they say reveals why a union is needed to improve patient safety and community commitment

Story Transcript

TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.

Johns Hopkins Hospital is under heavy criticism today as registered nurses have gathered to talk about the challenges they face in forming a union and their need for a safe work environment. These nurses say that Hopkins Hospital has not only not delivered on its promises of support to the surrounding community, but that they also have engaged in intense anti-labor efforts.

SPEAKER: Workers should be able to choose to join a union, free from management intimidation, harassment or interference.

TAYA GRAHAM: The struggle to unionize nurses at Johns Hopkins Hospital took on a new urgency today as a group of healthcare workers gathered at a town hall to not only demand better working conditions, but to demonstrate their concerns reach far beyond the labor dispute.

SPEAKER: This report, which we worked very hard on, serves to illuminate the gap between the reality and reputation. Our work in exposing the patient care conditions is an extension of our work at the bedside. Nurses are advocates for our patients. For many of us, nursing isn’t just a job, it’s a calling, so the care of our patients is our highest priority.

TAYA GRAHAM: And effects the lives of patients and the health of the community, the efforts to organize nurses at the powerful Baltimore institution, and the state’s top private employer, has been met with stiff resistance. Hopkins even hired a high-profile union busting law firm, Littler Mendelson, to fight back.

SPEAKER: Unfathomable that some of the emails that come out to the nurses are blatant lies and untruths, as you could say. Saying things like, “Well,
that nurse who started things, he must work for the union.” I’m like, “No, I’ve met his wife and dog, and he doesn’t work for the union.” And saying, “Well, we did this. Why do we need the union now?”

TAYA GRAHAM: And have made it so difficult for nurses to communicate, they filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in April.

But the theme of today’s gathering was focused on a series of reports that illuminate how working conditions can impact patient care.

The report highlights how a low patient to nurse ratio leads to dangerous conditions, and how high turnover means less experienced nurses are involved in critical care; and also how Hopkins benefits more from the taxpayers of Baltimore than it invests in the community. A focus nurses say show how critical their efforts are to fixing problems that effect everyone.

SPEAKER: An example for you is that we work with patients who are on continuous dialysis. Those patients are on a dialysis machine 24/7 because they’re so sick that they cannot survive intermittent dialysis. The national standard is that those patients should have a one to one ratio, one nurse for one patient, because the machines are very sensitive, they alarm. And if there’s a delay in care in solving the alarm, a patient can lose an entire unit of blood. What’s happening right now is that those patients are paired in the ICU at Johns Hopkins, throughout all of the ICUs. The result of that is that patients are regularly losing whole units of blood. And these are patients who already have a need for blood, as compared
to your regular healthy person.

SPEAKER: In the emergency room, and I’ll be discussing later, there are patients that have waited 18 hours to get care, there are patients that have bled, cardiac arrested, et cetera, while waiting to be cared for in the emergency department.

TAYA GRAHAM: We asked Johns Hopkins for a response, and they gave us a written statement.

“On behalf of the nurses, faculty and staff at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, we are proud of the high quality and compassionate care we provide and the contributions we make every day for our community. We are proud of our many efforts to help our city succeed and its residents thrive. Johns Hopkins supports the community in hundreds of ways.”

But the push to unionize appears to be gaining key political support.

SPEAKER: You are the ones who constantly worry about patients, even when you’ve gone home. You’re the ones who wish you could, in a way, work a 24 hour shift sometimes because you really want, you’re worried about that patient and how they will make it.

TAYA GRAHAM: On hand for the town hall as Congressman Elijah Cummings, the chair of the powerful Congressional Oversight Committee. He spoke about his respect for nurses after a six month hospitalization for a heart condition.

SPEAKER: And I believe that it’s not just the issues that may exist in Hopkins,
it’s not just Hopkins, but it’s probably a lot of other hospitals too.

TAYA GRAHAM: He said the nurses should have a chance to vote and that the process should be free of interference.

SPEAKER: People may want to discourage you and tell you that you all in the right, the wrong path, you’ve gotta say to yourselves, “This is bigger than me, I have got to do this to help families and my coworkers, and I want to make a difference.”

TAYA GRAHAM: A sentiment echoed by the nurses themselves, who believe their efforts and the help of their patients are intertwined.

SPEAKER: Ultimately, we are asking the community to join with us, so that we can hold Hopkins accountable to the vision that Johns Hopkins laid out for care, to give charity care, to give high quality care to everyone in the community.

TAYA GRAHAM: For full disclosure, National Nurses United has donated to The Real News Network in the past; most recently in 2016.

This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.

Taya Graham

Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns.

Stephen Janis

Host & Producer

Stephen Janis is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been acclaimed both in print and on television. As the Senior Investigative Reporter for the now defunct Baltimore Examiner, he won two Maryland DC Delaware Press Association Awards for his work on the number of unsolved murders in Baltimore and the killings of prostitutes. His in-depth work on the city's zero-tolerance policing policies garnered an NAACP President's Award. As an Investigative Producer for WBFF/Fox 45, he has won three successive Capital Emmys: two for Best Investigative Series and one for Outstanding Historical/Cultural Piece.

He is the author of three books on the philosophy of policing: Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore; You Can't Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond; and The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. He has also written two novels, This Dream Called Death and Orange: The Diary of an Urban Surrealist. He teaches journalism at Towson University.