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Staffing levels at heart of debate

SANTA FE, N.M. — I have worked at St. Vincent Hospital (pre- and post-Christus) for the past 17 years and have gained significant experience in staffing issues.

I have been on the hospital’s Staffing Committee since its inception, and I was the expert witness for the Safe Staffing legislation in 2013 and 2014.

When the 2011 contract was adopted, nurses, nursing assistants and technicians were extremely tentative of Christus’ methodology regarding staffing. The key feature was formulating a Staffing Committee to establish safe staffing levels for every nursing unit.

I and others volunteered to be on the Staffing Committee, despite having reservations regarding management’s commitment to safe staffing standards. But we felt it was important to work together.


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The nurses believed the Staffing Committee would be a collaborative forum for establishing safe staffing levels. The nurses found out that staffing levels were pre-determined by Christus accountants, not medical professionals, and that staffing levels would be handed down to us by Christus.

Diane Spencer.

Diane Spencer.

The nurses provided volumes of scholarly information substantiating staffing levels for various nursing units, but this information fell on deaf ears.

Both sides developed and adopted a Nurse Staffing Plan. The nurses were very hopeful. But, over time. our hope was dashed as the agreed upon Nurse Staffing Plan was not adhered to by Christus.

Christus insisted that we “trust them.” Bruce Tassin, CEO, states that, out of all of the hospitals in New Mexico, the nurses of Christus are the only ones that will not trust (their hospital management) for staffing.

Trust is earned, not a given. We tentatively trusted Christus for safe staffing, but Christus deceived us.

I have personally kept records of staffing insufficiencies (based on Christus’ 40th percentile for staffing) for the past three years, and I have a three-inch notebook for each year, 2012, 2013 and 2014, documenting staffing insufficiencies.

Month after month, the union presented these reports to the chief nurse executive and Mr. Tassin. The director of human resources sent a letter to the union stating Christus will not officially provide responses to these reports … which, in essence, says we should stop sending the reports.

As a nurse, I am accountable for my nursing practice. All nursing assistants, techs, unit secretaries and other employees are accountable for their patient care responsibilities.


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It seems a common-sense conclusion that the more face time a nurse has with his or her patients, the more opportunity that nurse has to provide better observation and care.

The Christus staffing approach substantially reduces my time with patients. This is not good by any measurement.

Is this how you, the community, want your community hospital to be staffed?

The Santa Fe County Commission unanimously adopted Liz Stefanics’ resolution to provide safe staffing at Christus. City Councilor Patti Bushee is presenting a similar resolution.

Christus states, “The employer respectfully submits that a more efficient, cost-effective, and appropriate method to review Union proposals and otherwise exchange communications at this time is by email and correspondence with your participation through phone communications with the parties’ representatives.” And they continue, “There is no need for in-person sessions to receive and review these proposals.”

Our mayor, Javier Gonzales, has requested that both parties come back to the negotiating table.

We agree … we have never left the table. We are looking at empty seats across from us. Christus refuses to meet with us face to face.

Santa Fe deserves safe staffing.

Diane Spencer is a nurse at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and a union delegate.