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Local nurses ask Aspirus for more pay and better working conditions amid staffing shortage

WAOW Television

The Intensive Care Unit at Aspirus Langlade Hospital has been short-staffed for more than a year, and nurses at the hospital keep leaving.

Just in the past couple of months, the hospital’s emergency room and birthing center lost three full-time staff members each, according to nurses like Danielle Majewski, who work there.

“They left because they didn’t feel they were being heard, that they weren’t appreciated,” Majewski says. “They weren’t making the money that they felt that they should be.”

Majewski is one of a number of nurses, represented by the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, asking Aspirus for higher pay and better working conditions.

The hope is that these changes will attract more full-time workers.

“We need more staff to take care of these patients,” Majewski says. “We need staff to safely take care of these patients.”

Majewski says Aspirus Langlade Hospital is so short-staffed that it’s difficult for nurses like her to give patients the best possible care. And that’s taxing both physically and emotionally.

It’s the reason why nurses like Barb Pomasl are leaving the profession after decades of service.

“I have worked at the hospital for 33 years, and I retired at the end of the year,” Pomasl says. “I’m not of retirement age, but I retired because of the toxic environment I was working in and the moral distress I felt. I emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually could not do it anymore.”

Another reason why nurses are leaving – they can make significantly more money as travel nurses.

Majewski says at this point, some nurses from Aspirus Langlade Hospital are leaving to work as travelers elsewhere. But then, Aspirus has to hire travel nurses to fill in the vacancies they leave.

“So OB will be getting two travelers that will be starting in the next week,” Majewski explains. “One of our nurses is going to that same facility, and one of their full-time nurses that was working there went to traveling and she’s coming to ours. So they’re switching and [Aspirus] is going to pay her way more money than they would have paid the nurse that left. How does that make any sense?”

Pomasl says while travel nurses are much needed and competent additions, they are less invested in the local community.

“The nurses that have all left are nurses that live here,” Pomasl says. “We’re committed to this community. I spent 33 years in that facility and numerous of my compatriots are way into the double digits. This is our community. But Aspirus is choosing to pay travelers instead of their own people.”

Both Majewski and Pomasl think higher wages for full-time staff members could help resolve the staffing issue and create a better healing environment for patients at the same time.

The Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals is in the midst of negotiations with Aspirus.

Aspirus says it will continue discussing options until both sides reach an agreement.

“Aspirus values the contributions of all team members,” it said in a statement. “We have enjoyed positive relationships with our union partners. Our consistent practice is to keep ongoing union discussions and negotiations at the bargaining table, and we expect the current discussion to conclude with a mutually agreeable arrangement – just like we have achieved in all prior negotiations.”

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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