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'You made a contract. You agreed to it. Live it.': Nurses voice concerns over staffing problems at ECMC

WBFO file photo

A video showing staff at Erie County Medical Center trying to get answers from management about staffing shortages in Erie County Medical Center's Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program went viral last Wednesday.

Lona DeNisco, a registered nurse in ECMC’s Emergency Room, says their cries for proper staffing have been ignored by management.

"So this is not new. These issues we've had, we've continued to push for the past year, maybe better than a year. The staffing is a huge concern, the safety is a huge concern. And that's our agenda. Our agenda is to make the facility better not just for the nurses, but to provide a safety net for patients. We have had continued conversations with no resolve," DeNisco said.

The Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program, known as CPEP, is a specialized unit for people who are at risk harm to themselves or others. The person is first evaluated in the emergency room and then transferred to CPEP for further evaluation.

Frank Wargula, a nurse in CPEP, said staffing shortages have become a problem in recent years and some nurses have left the hospital or transferred to other units because of burnout. He said they just want management to finally take action.

"Aggressively recruiting. It comes comes down to safe staffing. You made a contract. You agreed to it. Live it," Wargula said.

The contract Wargula is speaking about is an agreement signed by both ECMC and the New York State Nurses Association in July, which says the CPEP unit should have one nurse for every three patients. Wargula said the minimum nurse-to-patient ratio is one nurse for every 10 patients, the average can go as high as one nurse to 22 patients.

”And until we get to that point, I don't know if we ever will to that one-to-three ratio. But get us to one-to-six, get us to one-to-seven. We'd be happy, it would be manageable," Wargula said.

In a statement to WBFO, ECMC said.

"Due to our inability to discharge patients to state-supported programs, coupled with inadequate Medicaid reimbursements, ECMC continues to experience high patient volume challenges in our Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP). As we work through these community dynamics, we are working with our NYSNA representatives to resolve these challenges, which include filling 12 current open nursing positions. We have 7 new CPEP nurses starting in the unit, with more nurses soon coming on board; we will temporarily hire travel agency nurses to fill those other vacancies until the remaining nurses complete their orientation and start working in CPEP. To date, we have been having ongoing conversations with our NYSNA representatives; it is unfortunate that some misinformation has been disseminated on this subject."

The New York State Department of Health has launched an investigation.