Response to Senator Sanders’ Field Hearing In NJ

Heading into the 11th consecutive week of the strike led by the Steelworkers Union, RWJUH has made numerous offers to meet the union’s requests and more. With one the best patient-to-nurse staffing ratios in the state, it is misguided that this continued standoff is in the benefit of the nurses or patients. Yet Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced he will be holding a “field hearing” in Brunswick, New Jersey to address the ongoing strike by the Steelworkers Union at RWJ University Hospital. 

Instead of trying to aid in coming to a resolution, he emphasized his stance on the matter by stating, “When nurses at Robert Wood Johnson tell me that their hospital has become a dangerous place for both patients to seek care and nurses to do their jobs because of totally inadequate staffing levels, it is imperative that the Senate HELP Committee pursue this issue – because this is a crisis facing not just one hospital, but hospitals throughout the country.

Not only are Senator Sanders’ assertions completely false but his statements are also entirely hypocritical due to his own state of Vermont’s horrible track record when it comes to nurse staffing ratios, preparedness, and pay disparities:

  • Pay rates – according to the Board of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses in Vermont make on average about $17,000 less per year than in New Jersey. ($96,670 vs. $79,990) – (Source). This is despite the composite cost of living in New Jersey being lower than in Vermont (Source). Vermont also has some of the highest housing and utility costs in the country (Source) and has seen rates rise at a higher rate on housing than any state except Florida and South Carolina (Source)   
  • Preparedness – According to research from Quote Wizard, Vermont is the least prepared for a future surge, and has among the worst hospital staffing shortages (Source) Even with data updated to April 2022, Vermont is 13th least prepared for a crisis, while New Jersey is 45th (lower rankings mean more prepared) (Source). 
  • Federal Funding – Thestate of the healthcare system is like “a village on fire” and the state has not filled critical roles to help disburse federal funds. (Source
  • Focus on Travel Nurses – The nursing crisis is such that hospitals are depending on higher priced travel nurses to fill jobs due to lack of nursing faculty and nurses leaving the state once graduating or moving into non-hospital settings (Source), and local nurses are making less while not making enough (Source). UVM hospital for example had 427 travel nurses and over 200 unfilled positions in 2022 (Source), and travel nurses may make up to triple what other nurses make in Vermont (Source). 

Senator Bernie Sanders’ baseless claims and criticisms would do well to heed the age-old adage, “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.” Like all political attacks on behalf of the Steelworkers Union, this is simply a distraction from the primary issue at hand: guaranteeing that patients in New Jersey receive the highest-quality healthcare in the nation. The Steelworkers Union should stop using patient care for political gain, return to negotiations, and prioritize patients’ well-being.