BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Registered nurses at the Buffalo VA Medical Center, represented by National Nurses United (NNU), held a conference on Tuesday morning to address issues with hospital administration.

“When the deadly snowstorm hit over the holidays, nurses stepped up to provide care for our patients because we are committed to serving our veterans but we found ourselves woefully short-staffed, which we know jeopardizes care,” Nicole White, a union leader and registered nurse in the float team at the VA, said. “Management’s denial of our staffing crisis and failure to prepare for the anticipated storms led to the avoidable and intolerable situation of nurses working as many as 96 hours over four days with only a few four-hour breaks to sleep. We are very proud of the veteran-centric care the VA offers and we provide, but for the sake of our patients, the administration must listen to us and act immediately.”

“There was no true plan,” Edith Nesbitt, who serves as NNU’s associate director said during Tuesday morning’s conference. She went on to explain that some nurses were able to get cots to sleep on, but not all. Extra food wasn’t available, either, she says.

Nesbitt has been with the Buffalo VA for 19 years, but says the facility offers “nothing for retention.”

“I stay here because I love taking care of our veterans…They do things to get nurses in, but what do you do to keep the nurses that’s already here,” she said.

Michael Buehlman, a nurse who was scheduled for the day shift on Friday, where he started at 7:30 a.m., says most day shift workers could get in, but if you weren’t there by Noon, it wouldn’t have happened.

“I was here 66 hours,” Buehlman said, remarking that another nurse he knows was there for 72 hours.

“Friday night was the absolute worst on my floor. There were four of us working. Three of us on the floor and one nurse in a step-down unit. It was awful. I didn’t sleep for 23 hours,” he said.

Another registered nurse, Amy Clarke, said staffing has been “a long-standing issue.”

“The shameful neglect of our crisis has impacted nursing and our veterans,” Clarke, a union steward who serves in the community care unit, said. “We stand here united, fighting for a better future for us, for our veterans, and for our community.”

A Fiscal Year 2022 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General, released in July, listed the Buffalo VA as having 11 clinical occupations with staff shortages and six non-clinical occupations with staff shortages. Practical nurses were among the list of clinical jobs.

Here is a statement from the VA released to News 4:

“VA nurses have served on the front lines of Veteran care, ensuring that each patient receives the quality health care and services they have earned and deserve. They continue to work tirelessly providing the compassionate care VA nurses are known for. 

We could not be more proud of our nurses’ individual and collective contributions and sacrifices. While there is no shortage of nurses currently at our facility, we will continue to vigorously pursue multiple avenues to recruit and retain our nursing workforce.”

VA Western New York Healthcare System

To a degree, White says it’s true that there isn’t a nursing shortage, but in turn, says there aren’t enough nurses who are willing to work at the bedside of a patient.

“I’m asking you not to buy the narrative that there is a nursing staffing shortage. There is a crisis, but it’s not what you think. There are plenty of nurses out there. They’re just not willing to come to the bedside,” she said.

Nesbitt says the issues nurses at the VA face are nothing new. An informational picket regarding their work schedules took place over the summer.

“We were at the table negotiating with management and then all of a sudden, they decided to stop negotiating with us,” Nesbitt said. “These are ongoing issues that we have constantly tried to talk to management about, but it’s just, like, falling on deaf ears.”

NNU represents over 400 registered nurses at the Buffalo VA. As a result of the conflicts, the nurses have asked hospital administrators to join them for a forum at 12:30 p.m.

“We speak for our patients. There is nobody in leadership that can tell you what goes on at the bedside. We are advocates for our patients, but I feel like, as soon as we’re saying something that they don’t want to hear, then they want to quiet our voices down,” Nesbitt said. “We can’t only talk about the good. We have to expose it all. We have to talk about all things good and bad. And if you don’t accept that there’s a problem, there’s no way you’re going to be willing to address the problem.”

Watch the full conference in the video below:

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.