‘Many of us have PTSD’: Pennsylvania nurses strike amid Covid worries

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Strike is the latest in a wave of healthcare worker protests over low pay, understaffing and PPE shortages

A surgical nurse at St Mary medical center in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, his hospital was quickly overwhelmed during the first wave of the pandemic this spring, he said. He described racing between patients, only to discover that one had quietly suffocated while awaiting help.

He said he wrapped more patients in body bags in the first two months of the pandemic than he had in the previous 25 years. On Tuesday, he and 700 other nurses at the medical center went on strike after saying they were poorly compensated and short-staffed despite all they had to deal with as the virus surges again.

The fact that Gentile and his colleagues are part of a union offers them some protection from retaliation. But other workers who have protested unsafe conditions have faced serious consequences. In March, four Detroit nurses who raised concerns about understaffing and equipment shortages lost their jobs for reportedly violating their hospital’s social media policy. A Chicago nurse was taken off her hospital’s schedule after sending an email to colleagues urging them to use more PPE than the hospital provided.

Administrators, who brought in a fleet of travel nurses to replace the striking workers until Sunday morning, when Gentile and others expect to return, had not responded to the union’s demands as of Friday afternoon. The hospital issued a statement saying it “remains committed to bargaining in good faith” and that its administrators take care to maintain “appropriate levels of staffing”.

Though it’s unclear whether the strike will yield any immediate policy changes, Gentile said he’s encouraged by the solidarity his colleagues have shown, by new virus treatments, and by the prospect of a vaccine being just around the corner.

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