Mental health workers in the M Health Fairview system voted to join the Service Employees International Union-Healthcare Minnesota on Tuesday.
About 98% of employees who participated in the union election voted yes, according to a news release from SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. The 350 mental health workers will join an existing unit of 2,000 M Health Fairview staff.
During a news conference Tuesday, employees in favor of unionizing said they were motivated by safety concerns and desire for greater input in managerial decisions. Nationally, there are about 125 injuries per 10,000 employees of psychiatric and substance abuse hospital workers — 12 times higher than the injury rate for health care workers, and 60 times the rate for workers overall.
Erin McCormick, a psychiatric associate, said she feels managers don’t take seriously the risk of injuries to staff and patients. When she was pregnant, a patient tried to punch her in the stomach, and it took more than a month for supervisors to agree to accommodations for the rest of her pregnancy, McCormick said.
“The safety of our staff and patients has and always will be our top priority,” a spokesperson for M Health Fairview said in a statement to the Reformer. “We’ve worked collaboratively with our nurses, doctors, security and safety personnel and other support staff to invest in new workplace safety initiatives to identify and address gaps, and implement fast-changing best practices.”
Psychiatric associate Eric Immler said he hopes employees will have more say in decisions around staffing levels. Giving frontline staff more time with individual patients, especially those in crisis, can aid their recovery and prevent escalation, he said.
“We’ve never felt like a part of the decision-making team, including the staffing levels or policy changes that directly impact us. I think having a unified voice will get us to the table,” said senior psychiatric associate Andrea Rivas.
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