MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Health care workers at Mercy Health Hospital in Muskegon are threatening to take action if they can’t reach a resolution with the hospital system regarding pay.

Dozens of healthcare workers hosted a press conference on Monday night to address their concerns. They stood shoulder to shoulder holding signs demanding better pay and safer working conditions at Trinity Health’s Mercy Health Hospital.

“Every department I visit, every floor I float and every healthcare worker I encounter I see the same thing: exhaustion, burnout, trauma and stress,” said Tinitco Moore, who serves as the health unit coordinator for Mercy Health Muskegon. “The toll of nearly two years of this pandemic has pushed us to the limit.”

The hospitals workers said virtually every day during the pandemic they’ve been short staffed. They say nurses that would typically take one to three patients are now forced to take double the number of patients, which could put patients at risk.

They say they’ve also struggled to get adequate equipment and PPE.

“I was a nurse in the emergency room at the beginning of the pandemic when there was so much chaos. We were working with so many challenging conditions like having to reuse PPE because we don’t have enough,” said RN Kala Scholtens. “We are tired of being pushed to our limits, taking six to seven patients for one nurse. We are getting burnt out.”

The healthcare workers say for the last several years they’ve also been underpaid. Some staff say they haven’t received raises since 2017 while nationally nurses received a 9% bump in pay in 2021. They say the wages are resulting in many of their colleagues moving on to other jobs in the area.

“During these surges, we are worried if we will have enough ventilators to go around. We have almost been to that point,” said Mercy Health respiratory therapist Cyndi Zeanwick. “We are worried that we will not have enough staff able to take us through the next surge.”

The workers say they’re asking for better pay raises, retention bonuses and safe working ratios.

“Trinity’s own healthcare workers who sacrificed their selves working frontlines every day during this pandemic haven’t seen raises in years. We’re fed up,” said Andrea Acevedo, the president of SEIU Healthcare Michigan, the union representing the workers. “Enough is enough.”

Mercy Health released the following statement, saying they have been working on a new contract with SEIU Healthcare Michigan since February 2021.

The RNs, Tech and Support units at Mercy Health Muskegon have been represented by SEIU for years and we have always reached agreements with the union. Mercy Health Muskegon leadership and the RN, Service & Support and Tech units have been exchanging bargaining proposals for a new contract since February 2021.

Our negotiations are currently focused on non-economic items; and Mercy Health Muskegon has openly expressed our desire to increase the pace of the current negotiations to also address economic items. We have offered retention bonuses and sign-on bonuses, which the union membership recently voted down. Mercy Health Muskegon is currently providing critical staffing pay to many classifications of workers.

We look forward to increasing the pace of our negotiations, with the ultimate goal of reaching new agreements with the union. We have been able to do so in the past, and see no reason we will not reach agreements with the union.

Mercy Health Hospital

Mercy says “economic items” refers to monetary additions to the contract.

The healthcare workers say what was offered is below market value in comparison to what other area hospitals pay and the offer didn’t include every department. They say they rejected it and have not been satisfied with an offer at this point.

“Not everyone can do this job and we are losing people every day. The amount of people leaving us is slowly breaking us. Those of us that are still here, it’s because we truly love what we do and we love this community,” said Zeanwick.

The healthcare workers say if they cannot reach some sort of resolve by Jan. 31, they are prepared to take further action. When asked, the workers did not confirm if that “action” would indicate a strike or walkout, only saying they would “do what we need to do to get this fair contract.”

“If they don’t step up and take care of the people that are here now, it’s going to be a revolving door. People are going to keep leaving,” said Jaime Christenson, who works in the food and nutritional services department at Mercy Health Muskegon. “We already know we’re essential. We’re beyond essential and Trinity needs to realize that. They need to step up their game.”