Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nurses rally in downtown Pittsburgh for better pay and working conditions

Nurse Myra Taylor speaks at an SEIU labor rally while fellow attendees hold purple and white signs reading "More scrubs, less suits."
Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
Myra Taylor, an intensive care nurse at Allegheny General Hospital, speaks at an SEIU-organized rally where she discussed the need for higher pay and better retention of senior nurses at the bedside.

Nurses rallied at the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh on Thursday morning to highlight a list of action items they say will improve their working conditions and patient care.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) organized the rally, which was attended by Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and former state Rep. Sara Innamorato, who is the Democratic Party's nominee for Allegheny County executive. The event comes a day after SEIU's Pittsburgh Nurse Summit, where attendees discussed challenges they face at work, as well as potential solutions.

Chief among nurses' grievances is low pay, which they say exacerbates problems created by dangerously high nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. Myra Taylor, an intensive care nurse at Allegheny General Hospital, said these conditions hinder patients' safety as the lack of veteran bedside nurses means less experienced nurses train newer employees.

"Experienced nurses have intuition, they also have training," said Taylor. "It may take longer for a newer nurse to figure things out that would be much quicker caught by an experienced nurse."

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Do you like science, health and tech stories? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you Pittsburgh's top news, every weekday morning.

Nurses want a minimum $40-an-hour wage that increases with experience, which they say will help retain more senior staff. At the same time, they want hospitals to limit the use of travel or agency nurses, who might be paid two or three times the hourly wage a staff nurse earns.

Joel Gundy began working for UPMC hospitals less than a year before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he's frustrated that higher nurse-to-patient ratios he saw implemented as an emergency response to the pandemic remain in place.

"For many of us, it feels like in day-to-day work, we are still dealing with the repercussions of something that we poured our lives into overcoming," said Gundy.

Other action items include frontline staff being represented on hospitals' Boards of Directors, and zero tolerance policies for abuse from patients and visitors to ensure nurse safety.

Allegheny Health Network declined to comment, and UPMC did not respond to a request for comment.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.