Nurses sue Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital over staffing

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

The Michigan Nurses Association filed a lawsuit against Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in Oakland County Circuit Court on Thursday, saying a staff shortage is placing nurses and patients at risk.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of seven nurses at the 158-bed hospital in Commerce Township, which is part of the seven-hospital Detroit Medical Center health system. The hospital’s 350 nurses unionized with the Michigan Nurses Association in March 2016 and are negotiating their first union contract. Huron Valley-Sinai is the first DMC hospital where nurses have unionized.

At a news conference in Milford on Thursday, three Huron Valley-Sinai nurses complained of IV bags going dry, patient falls and other problems they said occur become of high nurse-to-patient ratios at the hospital.

“Patients are falling because there’s not enough nurses to help them get to the bathroom,” said Pat Kampmann-Bush, a certified recovery room nurse at Huron Valley-Sinai.

The allegations were denied Thursday by Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Lori Stallings and Shawn Levitt, chief nursing officer for the DMC, who said patient’s at the hospital are safe.

They noted that Huron Valley-Sinai is among just three hospitals in Michigan that received straight A’s on Leapfrog Group Safety Grades announced this week by the national hospital quality watchdog organization.

“What you see is an attempt by the nurses to negotiate their contract in the media, and that’s not our practice to do that,” Levitt said. “We were surprised to see these issues coming out in this way.”

The 23-page lawsuit hinges on the what nurses call the hospital’s refusal to accept complaint forms they’ve filled out to document lapses in patient care that occur because they they have too may patients to care for. They said more than 250 of the forms have been filed since Jan. 1 this year.

Melanie Moss, spokeswoman for the DMC heath system, did not immediate respond to a request for comment Thursday. The DMC is Michigan’s only for-profit health system and is owned by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare.

A six-month Detroit News investigation in 2016 uncovered problems with dirty surgical instruments at five hospitals on the DMC’s Downtown Detroit Campus that were blamed, in part, on a shortage of sterile processing workers to clean surgery tools and equipment. The News series led to investigations by state and federal agencies that at one time threatened federal funding for the system. The health system passed inspections after investing more than $6 million to correct the problems.

Huron Valley-Sinai is the only DMC hospital with unionized nurses. The Michigan Nurses Association has about 13,000 members across the state, according to President John Armelagos, a registered nurse with the University of Michigan Health System.

“Staffing and patient safety is always the No. 1 issue that nurses advocate on a daily basis and at the bargaining table,” Armelagos said Thursday. “This is not just a nursing concern, this is a public safety matter.”