AUBURN — Dozens of people filled the Regional Economic Center building of Cayuga Community College Tuesday night in support of Auburn Community Hospital nurses seeking an increase in staffing and safer working conditions.

Some spoke before Cayuga County legislators during the body's full meeting, asking for their support as the nurses represented by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East negotiate a new contract with the hospital.

"The nurses are burning out," said Kelly Ludeman, a registered nurse with ACH for 33 years. "The new nurses aren't staying. They're leaving. They're going to Syracuse where they can have five patients on their roll, or four patients, or six patients at most, where the staffing ratios are better."

Currently, she said, the hospital is utilizing a staffing grid that was created during contract negotiations about a decade ago. Since then, nursing has transformed, she said. Paperwork has turned electronic, positions have been cut and a larger workload falls into the laps of the bedside nurse.

She said the staffing grid stipulated the minimum number of nurses per patients on the floor, and if those numbers fell, the nurses would receive a premium pay bonus. The hospital, Ludeman continued, told staff that would never happen, but that has not been the case.

Ken Spurgeon, vice chair of the union and a registered nurse for ACH, said more than 50 percent of the time, nurses are short-staffed. He said he and others are not looking to divide the community, but said people need to be aware that the business model has changed.

With the meeting room too small to accommodate all of the supporters, applause could be heard in the hall after the nurses spoke. Following their statements at the meeting, union members and others held a candlelight vigil outside of the building.

In a statement to The Citizen Tuesday night, ACH spokesperson Matt Chadderdon reiterated that the hospital has maintained safe staffing levels in accordance with the existing labor contract.

"At the heart of all we do at Auburn Community Hospital, is ensuring a safe and positive patient experience," he wrote. "Auburn Community Hospital employees and physicians remain committed to the safety and well-being of the patients we are privileged to serve. We will never risk patient safety or quality of care."

Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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County Government Reporter