For the past year and a half, Ken Spurgeon said, Auburn Community Hospital has been short-staffed.
The vice chair of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Spurgeon has worked as a registered nurse at ACH for nearly 20 years. Now, he said, he is becoming increasingly concerned about staffing levels at the hospital.
Spurgeon will be one of three ACH employees speaking at the Cayuga County Legislature meeting next week. Their goal, he said, is to raise awareness about the "staffing crisis" and negotiate a new contract with management.
"We're proud of what we do here ... but there is a crisis in health care regionally," Spurgeon said in a phone interview with The Citizen. "We just want to bring attention to the staff-to-patient ratio to achieve the best outcome possible for our patients."
That ratio varies on every floor and department, he said. Union members will have specific statistics at the Legislature meeting Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Matt Chadderdon, a spokesperson at ACH, said there are currently 1,080 people employed at the hospital; that includes 180 nurses that are represented in contract negotiations.
"We have maintained safe staffing levels in accordance with the existing labor contract," Chadderdon said in an email to The Citizen. "Patients receive exceptional, high quality care, and in fact, the patient experience at ACH meets or exceeds the state and national benchmarks in numerous categories."
Despite his concerns about staffing levels, Spurgeon agreed with Chadderdon's assessment of care.
"This hospital is safe and the staff cares and management cares," he said. "But we want nothing but the best for the people that come to this hospital. ... We need to increase the numbers and make sure that patient safety and staffing is our main concern."
In a letter, the union cited three issues that members hope to address: fair raises, benefits and staffing. It also claimed that some of the hospital's current staffing grids have fallen below the national levels of care.
"The last years we have worked under harsh conditions because we are understaffed," the letter said. "We have worked short, rotated and constantly floated which limits our ability to provide the quality care that our patients deserve."
After the meeting — which will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26 in the Regional Economic Center at Cayuga Community College — several union members will participate in a candlelight vigil outside the college. The union will then meet with hospital management for contract negotiations Thursday, Oct. 5.