(WASHINGTON) -- Thousands of nurses from around the country marched to the White House and past the U.S. Capitol Thursday demanding reforms to the health care industry they claim has been putting their lives in danger and prioritizing profits over the care of patients.
They called for three major changes: fair wages, safe-staffing ratios, and protection against workplace violence -- issues nurses say have only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the nation marked 1 million deaths from Covid, the nurses gathering in front of the White House warned of what they said was the dangerous nurse-to-patient staffing ratio putting both patients and nurses in danger.
While the ratio of nurses to patients depends on the type of care, a nurse most commonly cares for three patients at one time. Some nurses at Thursday's protest reported caring for eight to 10 patients simultaneously. Cindy Reuss said she left her job after 17 year due to unsafe staffing ratios.
Her job job was her heart, she said, in an interview with ABC affiliate WJLA.
"None of us want to leave bedside nursing," Reuss said. "But we cannot do it. With eight to ten patients, it's not safe. We just want the opportunity to be good nurses."
Other nurses at the protest highlighted what they said was the lack of protection nurses have against workplace violence.
Thomas Fernandes, who's been a critical care travel nurse for five years, claimed a patient shattered a meth pipe on his head with no repercussions.
"Put your hands on a cop, you go to jail. Put your hands on a nurse and you can come back next week," Fernandes said, pointing to what he said was a lack of penalties for patients who harm those dedicated to caring for them.
Adriane Carrier said she has been injured three times and spent two and half years out of work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing and residential care facilities have the second-highest workplace injury incident rates in the country.
"We need to have a safe workplaces and consequences for injuring and harming health care workers and nurses," she said.
During their march past the U.S. Capitol, the nurses also demanded fair, reasonable and competitive wages, noting what they said is the increase in hospital profits while they've seen little to no increase in pay.
"This is a time where the health care industry and hospitals have made record profits while [nurses] are leaving the bedside," Carrier said. "50,000 more nurses will be leaving the bedside. There will be no more nurses to take care of Americans and our country and that is going to be the biggest tragedy of all."
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