May 12, 2022

Nurses Rally at Capitol to Fight for Workplace Safety

Reporting Texas

Registered nurse Michelle Baker leads a protest for better wages and safer work conditions at the Texas Capitol on May 12, 2022. Sloan Wyatt/Reporting Texas

Dozens of Texas nurses demanded workplace changes at a rally outside the Capitol Thursday morning.

“You go to work in a hospital where you’re supposed to be taking care of people on the worst days of their life, and they’re sick and they punch you in the face,” said Amanda Rose, an Austin-area emergency room nurse. “Did anybody here get signed up to get boxed on at work?”


Amanda Rose, an emergency room registered nurse, speaks with the media about safety issues during the protest. Sloan Wyatt/Reporting Texas

For two hours, nurses from around the state showed their support for three main priorities — punishment for violence against healthcare workers, mandatory safe staffing ratios and fair wages for nurses.

“Nurses are the backbone of healthcare. In order for nurses to stay, there needs to be change so we can do our jobs safely,” said Chloe Allen, a registered nurse from Longview who drove five hours to attend the rally.

Among the problems voiced by protesting nurses is that hospitals have ignored their requests to improve the staffing ratios. Sloan Wyatt/Reporting Texas

One of the changes nurses seek is a national mandatory requirement for safe nurse-to-patient ratios. The healthcare workers lamented being frequently overburdened with too many patients. Safe staffing ratios are directly tied to better patient outcomes, yet, those concerns fall on deaf ears when communicated to their hospitals, said Tiffany Pettijohn, an Austin-area registered nurse.

“When you talk about staffing, especially ratios, (hospitals) have to put resources there, and that costs money,” said Cindy Zolnierek, CEO of the Texas Nurses Association. “Nurse staffing is often looked at as a cost to be managed rather than a value to be optimized.”

Registered nurse Debbie Rice shares her experiences working for the military at Fort Hood. Sloan Wyatt/Reporting Texas

The Texas Hospital Association is a nonprofit trade association that represents more than 85% of Texas hospitals and health care systems. “Real work and real solutions are needed, and THA has been making the case in Congress and in our Texas Legislature for additional funding and attention on these short- and long-term workforce challenges,” John Hawkins, president and CEO of the Texas Hospital Association, wrote in a statement to Reporting Texas.

Although the Texas Hospital Association has been an ally of nurses in their fight against workplace violence, they do not support the same staffing ratio goals, said Jack Frazee, director of government affairs for the Texas Nurses Association.

“We do a lot with a little,” said Rose. “I think it’s about time that we stop accepting that they expect us to do a lot with a little.”

The crowd carried signs and chanted, “We are unstoppable. A safer world is possible!” and “I call for safe harbor!” at the foot of the south steps of the Capitol, which occurred on the birthday of Florence Nightingale, widely regarded as the founder of modern nursing.

The rally coincided with the National Nurses March in which nurses marched from The White House to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Similar rallies were held at state capitals across the country.

Nurses around the country demanded lawmakers pass two bills in Congress to address their concerns, the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act of 2021 and the Workplace Violence Prevention for Healthcare and Social Service Workers Act.

A Texas state-level workplace violence prevention bill was passed in the Texas House in 2021, but it never made it onto the floor of the Senate for a vote. 

The Texas nurses assembled at the Capitol were hopeful it would become law during the next legislative session in 2023.

“All of us want to do better by our patients, which is why we’re here,” Rose said.