This commentary is from Deb Snell of Moretown, RN and President of the Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals.

I work as a registered nurse in the intensive care unit of UVM medical center, where I am also president of our union.

For almost two years, my colleagues and I have lived with the daily heartache and anxiety of working under-staffed during the Covid-19 pandemic. We have held press conferences, rallies and met with lawmakers to make them understand the gravity of what we are facing.

This is why last Monday’s press conference by Governor Scott, Senator Sanders and Senate Speaker Balint calling for action to deal with the health workforce crisis was a breath of fresh air and was the topic of conversation this week in our unit.

We applaud the top leaders of Vermont for taking this crisis seriously and coming up with concrete steps to resolve it. Increasing enrollment in Vermont nursing programs through scholarships and loan repayment programs is a good start, as is the call for higher salaries for our nurse educators.

We urge policymakers to go further by offering free nursing courses at UVM and Vermont State Colleges, while investing in the future of our public institutions of higher education.

We also appreciate the call to seek overseas recruitments of nurses in Vermont, provided they are entitled to the same union rights and protections and are not treated as second class citizens in our communities. .

However, Monday’s press conference missed a major point that my colleagues immediately picked up on: what about our current healthcare professionals who are overworked, underpaid and leaving en masse to travel or take care of their health. retirement from the profession?

Employers in the Vermont healthcare sector – from hospital executives to nursing home administrators – hold a high level of responsibility for the burnout widely experienced in our profession, and must be called upon to do more to maintain the job. existing staff. For starters, that means general pay increases and respect for the work we do, including non-interference when staff members choose to organize and form a union.

At UVM Medical Center we have over 300 vacancies and we often work side by side with traveling nurses who are paid up to three times our salary. Yet hospital administrators, who have made it clear that they can offer nurses a 10% raise today, refuse to release her without onerous restrictions on our union rights. This basic disrespect only serves to increase burnout and drive nurses out of the profession, making the crisis worse.

Policymakers should keep in mind that healthcare workers are not just numbers on a spreadsheet. We are people who deserve dignity and fairness as we put our lives on the line to keep our communities safe.

Whether we are working in emergencies or providing home health services, nurses and healthcare professionals are tired of carrying the brunt of this pandemic and of serving as a shock absorber to our state’s underinvestment in housing, the mental health and long-term care.

Healthcare professionals are the fastest growing sector of the workforce and represent the economy of the future. It’s time for Vermont lawmakers and employers to bring resources to the table and make meaningful investments in our healthcare professionals.

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