Mayo Clinic surgical workers call out safety, retention issues in petition to executives
The petition, signed by nearly 300 surgical workers at the Saint Marys and Methodist campuses, calls on Mayo Clinic to address staff shortage concerns that contribute to overwork and burnout.
ROCHESTER — Niki Church worked at Mayo Clinic for eight years, cycling through many different departments and roles, union and non-union. One thing was clear no matter which department she was in: adequate staffing was an issue.
"From a maintenance technician to surgeon, each job role consistently appeared understaffed, but reportedly expected to meet a quota of more than what existing staffing could accomplish," Church said. "I terminated my employment in February 2023 largely because I felt safety concerns brought forward by myself and many other employees were not being addressed properly."
Because of these concerns, Church joined current Mayo Clinic surgical staff and union representatives on Thursday to deliver a petition to CEO and President Dr. Gianrico Farrugia and Dr. Michael Kendrick, chair of Mayo Clinic's surgery department, at Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys.
Grievances from employees, current and former, include excessive mandatory overtime, employees not receiving their breaks and under-trained staff working in operating rooms.
"And every single time we've been meeting with the employer on these, we've been hitting a brick wall," said Hallie Wallace of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa. "We have been given empty promises that these things will be fixed, and nothing is changing."
These conditions pose a "significant risk" to patient and staff safety, said Sam Bright, a certified surgical technologist at Saint Marys and a union member.
"Continuing to be asked to do more with less eventually leads to an empty tank," Bright said. "We are not machines, and our patients are not products on a conveyor belt. The key to providing patient care is in the employees' ability to do so. That level of care has continued to be compromised with exhaustion and burnout."
About 275 union and non-union surgical workers signed the petition, representing more than half of the hospitals' roughly 400 certified surgical technologists and sterile processing technicians.
Demands in the petition include a re-evaluation of the surgical caseload and staffing for those surgeries, balancing out overtime needs, revamping the training processes for surgical staff and more transparency and communication from supervisors.
"Finally, we demand more work on staff retention," said Jen Santos Norgren, a Saint Marys sterile processing technician and union member. "Many feel as if our department is hemorrhaging (staff members) and we need to stop the bleeding. Our staff are jumping ship to go to other departments where there's less overtime, lower workload and higher pay. Or, they're leaving the facility altogether."
The petition suggests wage increases, retention bonuses and preceptor pay as ways to increase staff retention.
Wallace said the petition calls for Mayo Clinic to schedule a face-to-face meeting between Farrugia and the concerned surgical staff by next Thursday, June 1.
"(It's) so that he can see what it means to these employees to be going through these issues every day, so that he can hear that they know how to solve them, because they are the ones on the ground doing the work," Wallace said.
In a Thursday afternoon statement, Kendrick said that Mayo Clinic leaders "have an unwavering commitment to our staff and to providing high-quality, safe patient care."
"We encourage our staff to share concerns, especially those related to staff and patient safety," Kendrick said. "The concerns raised during today’s SEIU news conference have been investigated by our internal leadership team as well as by The Joint Commission. These investigations did not substantiate the union’s claim about unsafe practices. We continue to work with our staff to identify ways we can further support them. As was acknowledged at the press conference, we have many efforts underway to jointly identify solutions, including regularly exchanging ideas through staff and leadership meetings as well as our safety and staff engagement committees. Though this is a challenging time for the healthcare industry, we remain steadfast and committed to our staff and will continue to identify solutions to current challenges.”