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Nurses say UMC’s sick call policy jeopardizes health of patients, staff


Nurses say UMC’s sick call policy jeopardizes health of patients, staff

Jan 30, 2023 | 5:32 pm ET
By Dana Gentry
Nurses say UMC’s sick call policy jeopardizes health of patients, staff
Nurses say the policy is at odds with the most recent collective bargaining agreement and effectively cuts permitted absences by more than half. (UMC photo)

A newly-enforced policy that requires employees to call in sick eight hours before their shift poses a risk to patient and staff health, and undermines the workers’ collective bargaining agreement with University Medical Center, according to SEIU Local 1107, which represents nurses and support staff at Clark County’s public hospital.    

A statement from UMC CEO Mason Van Houweling says the notice requirement has been in the union’s collective bargaining agreement “for years.”  

The union also alleges employees who become sick have to find a replacement to cover their shift, which the hospital denies. 

“There is absolutely no requirement or expectation for these team members to find coworkers to cover their shifts. This is the responsibility of clinical workers.” Van Houweling says.  

“The sick can’t take care of the sick,” says pediatric intensive care nurse Liz Bolhouse, who has worked at UMC for 21 years, and says getting sick goes with the territory, but spreading an illness does not. “You wouldn’t want a sick waiter. You definitely wouldn’t want a sick nurse.”

The hospital understands that “employees may need to call out sick without providing the full eight hours of notice from time to time,” Van Houweling said. UMC has “an incredibly lenient progressive counseling process in place,” he said, adding an employee would have to fail to provide adequate notice four times in 12 months “before warranting any serious corrective action.” 

But Bolhouse, a shop steward who represents 1,600 UMC nurses, says the policy is at odds with the most recent contract, negotiated in 2016, and cuts permitted absences by more than half. 

“We actually are allowed up to 10 legitimate absences in six months without being terminated,” she says, adding the hospital has the ability to discipline those with “…habitual or abusive attendance patterns”, but hospital administrators “don’t want to do the work. This is significantly undermining our ability to call in sick and protect our job.”

But UMC spokesman Scott Kerbs says the policy does not reduce allowed absences, but
“simply enforces an entirely separate counseling process that only applies to situations when an employee calls out without providing eight hours of notice. This provision has been in the negotiated collective bargaining agreement for at least a decade.”

“We began enforcing this provision of the collective bargaining agreement in late 2022, in response to a noticeable increase in last-minute call-offs,” Van Houweling said.

Bolhouse attributes enforcement of the policy to inadequate staffing. 

“UMC is resorting to having to contract 50 additional nurses from outside agencies at a higher rate of pay.  That does not say that all of our staffing needs are met,” says Bolhouse. 

“When team members call off without advance notice, UMC often relies on overtime and contracted labor to reduce the impact on our patients, team members and overall operations,” Van Houweling responded.

Bolhouse says Nevada lacks the “healthcare infrastructure that other states have,” resulting in a scarcity of opportunities for new graduates to gain clinical experience and rotations, contributing to the state’s shortage of nurses.  

In 2021, Nevada had 24,590 employed registered nurses, according to Nurse Journal, or 10.04 nurses per 1,000 people, higher than the national average of 9.29. 

Washington, D.C. has the highest ratio at 16.74 and Utah has the lowest at 7.26

A report from the Nevada Health Workforce Research Center to be provided to the Nevada Legislature suggests the state invest in increasing the number of registered nurses by:

  • Expanding public funding to increase the capacity of nursing programs and higher education institutions to enroll and graduate more registered nurses over the next decade
  • Expand partnerships, including clinical experience opportunities
  • Allow licensing flexibility, such as permitting practical nurses and paramedics to become registered nurses  

Bolhouse says the union hopes to work out a “reasonable solution” with the hospital. Should that fail, it intends to address the practice through arbitration or with a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board.