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Opinion | Henry Ford’s hiring of nurses from Philippines is about greed

As we celebrated National Nurses Week this past week, it’s important to focus on the challenges in the nursing profession and what we can do to support our hard-working care providers. Henry Ford Health’s decision to recruit nurses from the Philippines misses the mark as we continue to combat the worsening nursing shortage.

Laken Gray and Robert Gibson photos
Laken Gray is an ICU nurse at McLaren Bay and a SEIU union leader. Robert Gibson is hospital director at SEIU Healthcare Michigan.

Let’s be clear: Nurses from the Philippines are not the enemy; we respect these nurses as our colleagues and future union members. The villain is the hospitals that refuse to invest in healthcare workers in their own communities, putting profits over worker retention and recruitment.

The healthcare worker shortage is well documented and very concerning. All across the healthcare industry–from home healthcare to nursing homes to hospitals–the worker shortage, exacerbated and heightened by the pandemic, continues to worsen. About 4 in 10 nurses in Michigan are planning to quit in the next year, according to a study published in the journal Medicare Care, citing short-staffing, emotional and physical abuse on the job as major concerns in their workplace. An overwhelming majority of nurses (84 percent) said they were emotionally exhausted.

In hospitals, staffing shortages impact patient care and create a vicious cycle where existing staff struggle under the weight of high patient ratios, leading to more stress and burnout.

It is clear we need major changes to better support and value healthcare workers in our state and across the country. Unfortunately, employers like Henry Ford seem to be focused on easy fixes that will enable them to continue making record profits, without actually improving pay or working conditions. My healthcare system McLaren has also toyed with the idea of recruiting nurses from other countries such as the Philippines.

What’s at the heart of this strategy? Corporate greed. 

Instead of investing in existing healthcare workers, greedy billion-dollar hospital companies are going to other countries to leech resources from their own healthcare workforce so they can bring workers here and continue underpaying and undervaluing all healthcare workers. This type of “outsourcing” feels exploitative — something more akin to a modern day type of colonialism rather than the investment that we truly need at home.

These so-called solutions do nothing to address the problems of retaining experienced staff and ultimately, fail to address the root of the problems driving so many healthcare workers to leave. When hospital systems continue to refuse nurses’ demands for livable wages, safe staffing, benefits and respect, workers burn out and leave. That is the true root of this healthcare worker shortage.

Any effort to recruit and hire new workers has to go hand in hand with improvements in working conditions, pay and respect. For healthcare workers who are part of a union, that means employers are actively listening to us and working to secure a fair contract. For workers who do not yet have a union, that means providing protections so that they can organize and have a voice on the job if they so choose.

There are no easy fixes. It’s going to take employers sitting down and listening to workers and policymakers doing their part to build sustainable solutions with workers at the table to address the issues so we can create a better environment for patients and workers providing that care.

Let’s celebrate nurses by recognizing and committing to solutions that support our profession in the long term and leave Michigan on a pathway to higher quality healthcare for our residents. 

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