Healthcare workers march at Texas Capitol to demand improved conditions, higher pay

Nurses in Austin and across the country took part in the Million Nurse March on May 12.  They say the industry is experiencing an alarming staffing shortage which is putting patients at risk.

"There's been a lot of changes in health care. There's been an ongoing, slow trickling nursing exodus over the decades. And COVID has absolutely caught gasoline on that. Set it on fire," says Deborah Goodman, RN-BSN, out of West Texas.

The Morning Consult finds that from the start of the pandemic in 2020 to October 2021, one in five healthcare workers quit their jobs. Other statistics show about 20% of those who have stayed have considered leaving the field entirely.

That's why Goodman says she chose to participate in the Central Texas Million Nurse March which was part of a nationwide event.

"None of us went into nursing to do a bad job. We are here to do a good job, but we have to have the tools to do it with. Some of those tools include having other nurses. Biggest tool in our toolbox is enough staff," Goodman says.

Tricia Poindexter, an RN and psychiatric health nurse from Kerrville, agrees with Goodman. 

"What are we hoping to accomplish with this march today? Safe staffing ratios. There are a lot of us nurses that have way too many patients with way too high acuity," Poindexter says.

Poindexter and Goodman say however that staffing will not improve until conditions and pay does.

"We want to support those folks that are coming in behind us because we're not going to be here forever. We're not going to be here forever and we're going to get older and need somebody to take care of us," Poindexter says.

The pandemic hit older nurses especially hart as they were at greater risk and closer to retirement. Simmons University says this further exacerbated the staffing shortage because more than 55% of nurses are over the age of 50.

The march is also happening during National Nurses Week. The national organization behind the march says there are three main things it's asking for: violence prevention training, fair wages, and more people on each shift.