Nurses deserve support for speaking up

By Michael Rey

I would like to offer some words of support for those Emergency Department Nurses at Haywood Regional Medical Center who were brave enough to contribute to the debate over recent changes there (I am referring to the article that appeared in The Smoky Mountain News on April 24). Even speaking anonymously, they have all put their jobs on the line.


Nurses are the backbone of the ED. The most experienced, capable, and caring among them have been forced to take on more responsibilities than any nurse could possibly perform and get far less appreciation than they deserve. I apologize to them for not publicly speaking out on their behalf before now.

I am an Emergency Physician, a member of the Medical Staff at HRMC for 25 years and co-founder of Haywood Emergency Physicians. I resigned from Haywood Emergency Physicians in April 2006 because, in my opinion, neither the HRMC or HEP were working together, in good faith, to solve the numerous problems confronting the newly renovated department.

The Emergency Department nurses were given little say in planning the project. After the physical plant was done, they were provided with some opportunity to provide input in the form of the ED Practice Committee (which was assigned the responsibility of planning and implementing the transition from the old facility to the new one). Unfortunately, after a year of hard work it was abruptly disbanded by Mr. Rice, who was displeased with some its recommendations. This arbitrary action, and many like it, have left the ED nurses powerless and demoralized.

In my opinion, the ED renovation has not been successful primarily because the new department hasn’t been staffed with enough nurses for 14 rooms, let alone the three that were not being used. Opening them without a considerable increase in the number of RNs will make things worse.

If there is any one thing that has a chance of restoring the confidence of the community in the Emergency Department, it is nurses. Nurses in sufficient quantities. Nurses who possess appropriate training and experience. The Boards of HRMC and the Foundation should insist on this before moving on to other projects. Though not viewed as a “profit center,” the ED supplies the basic medical care that every citizen of this county is likely to need sooner or later.

A year ago I concluded that I had done everything I could do within the institution to bring attention to a worsening situation, with no positive response. I gave the HRMC Board a summary of my conclusions and resigned from HEP. The group was fragmented, antagonistic and rife with internal competition. They made themselves easy scapegoats.

I have spent most of my career working at HRMC. I have promoted it for a quarter of a century and still think it is a valuable resource to this community. It remains a safety net for those who have no other way of obtaining medical care. It is also the hospital’s front door and where people form their first impressions of the institution. Until recently I was proud to say I worked there.

I had previously decided not to add my voice to the public battle being waged in the press, (since Haywood Emergency Physicians lost its contract in December). The idea just went against the grain. However those anonymous nurses shamed me into changing my mind about that. They deserve my support. I wish it could be more than just words.

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