Central Florida nurses protest elimination of newborn nursery unit in Osceola hospital
Central Florida union nurses protested Tuesday morning in Kissimmee over an Osceola County hospital’s decision to cut its newborn nursery unit, which they say will force low-income, high-risk patients to pay the price.
HCA Florida Osceola announced that it would be closing its nursery unit on Dec. 12 and its nursing staff would be reassigned to the neonatal intensive care unit by the end of the year. However, NICU training won’t be completed until the end of March, according to a press release by the National Nurses Union.
The union also stated the administrative change would provide no respite care for new parents; who will be expected to care for their newborns, regardless of their postpartum condition.
Outside of the HCA’s trauma center, about 40 nurses gathered on the corner of Central Avenue and Oak Street with raised signs and yelled chants to oncoming traffic, with many vehicles echoing a chorus of supportive honks.
Among the protesters was Cassandra Gomez, an HCA nurse for the last 9 years. She believes the nursery unit is a necessity for Osceola’s at-risk population.
“So all of the high-risk patients already come to us, but we do get also a higher population of patients that don't speak English or speak very little English or haven't gotten much prenatal care. So all of those things put them at higher risk anyway. That's why we require staff in the newborn nursery that is specialized and can take care of those babies," she said.
Gomez also stated she's observed similar administrative behavior at a previous HCA hospital and that the strategy to cut units and merge staff does not work.
"It especially will not work in a high-risk facility like this one," she said. "This is a money-making scheme. This is for them to make money, you know, at the expense of our patients and nurses."
Osceola Hospital’s Chief Nursing Officer, Michelle Farris, responded saying the hospital's highest priority is its patient and that the union was misguided in its messaging.
“For several decades, our hospital has been privileged to serve our community and proudly care for and celebrate with our families who chose to deliver at HCA Florida Osceola Hospital. Our hospital helps deliver hundreds of babies annually and provides the highest level of NICU services in Osceola County," Farris said. "Unfortunately, the union has chosen to deliberately misrepresent information to advance its own agenda. This is very disconcerting."
HCA's decision to eliminate the newborn nursery was made with "evidence-based practices" consistent with several organizations that found keeping mothers and newborns together promotes optimal outcomes, Farris said.
"Because of this, HCA Florida Osceola Hospital has a decreased need for nursery services because healthy term babies are typically cared for in the room with their mothers and our preterm or vulnerable babies are cared for by our specialized team in the NICU," Farris said. "If a mother is unable to provide care for her healthy-term newborn for any reason, the baby would receive care in the NICU during that time."
Marisa Lee, a 40-year career nurse, had just finished a night shift when she emerged from the hospital to join her colleagues in protest Tuesday morning.
Lee, who has worked at the HCA Osceola Hospital for 20 years, said she's seen hospital policy changes that have made it harder for nurses to give the right amount of time to care for a patient. As a result, she isn't buying the hospital's explanation and said the decision was fueled by greed and a lack of compassion for patients.
"They have forgotten that this is a person or this is a baby. They have forgotten them. Their whole total spectrum of life is to make that bottom dollar and forget about the patient," she said. “It's a person (we're talking about) and sometimes they need five minutes of your time. Sometimes they need you just to hold their hand. Well, this industry has become such a mechanized, such a de-sensitized, such a cold industry, that they’ve forgotten that that's an individual. They've forgotten."