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Alabama nurses stressed during latest Covid wave protest on Labor Day for better pay

Alabama nurses earn on average 8 percent less than nurses in neighboring states, said the president of the Alabama State Nurses Association.

Nurses protesting low pay and difficult working conditions aggravated during the Covid-19 surge in Alabama began their shifts Monday about two hours late, officials said.

About 20 nurses and other staff members on the night shift participated in the protest on Labor Day at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, Alicia Rohan, a hospital spokeswoman, said in a statement Tuesday.

The employees discussed their concerns with the hospital leaders and then "joined their colleagues to care for patients," Rohan said.

Protesting staff members returned to work about two hours later than scheduled. Nurses on the day shift worked extra hours so patient care would not be affected, Rohan said.

Terri Poe, chief nursing officer at UAB Hospital, said Covid-19 has elevated stress on the nurses.

"The covid pandemic and recent delta variant surge have stressed the healthcare system and put tremendous pressure on our staff – including nurses on the front lines," Poe said in a statement.

"We are aware of our nurses' concerns and are working to address them while adjusting operations to provide the highest quality care to our patients who need us. We encourage a dialogue with our employees – particularly in difficult times like these. Our community can help us support our nurses and all our employees by wearing masks and getting vaccinated to curb the pandemic that continues to put pressure on those who have been working to serve our state."

Lindsey Harris, president of the Alabama State Nurses Association, said nurses in Alabama make on average 8 percent less than nurses in neighboring states.

"It's easy for a nurse to go across state lines and still come back home to their families and make that 8 percent difference," Harris said. "We would love to increase within the state as a whole. ... I would love to see equal pay."

Rohan said nurses at the hospital have been offered financial incentives, including pay increases and bonuses, during the pandemic. The concerns raised this week will help inform discussions about compensation, she said.

NBC affiliate WVTM of Birmingham reported that a nurse on the night shift said nurses coordinated with their colleagues on the day shift, who agreed to fill in for them during the protest.

Alabama has been hit particularly hard during the recent rise in Covid-19 cases because of the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus. The state has ranked near the bottom in the percentage of its population who are vaccinated — its 39.1 percent rate is the worst in the country, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In late July, Gov. Kay Ivey blamed the unvaccinated for the dramatic increase in cases. Back then, the rolling average number of daily new cases was up by 694, or 573 percent.

"Almost 100 percent of the new hospitalizations are with unvaccinated folks," Ivey said. "And the deaths are certainly occurring with the unvaccinated folks. These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain."

A doctor vowed late last month that he would stop treating unvaccinated patients.

The physician, Dr. Jason Valentine of Diagnostic and Medical Clinic Infirmary Health in Mobile, recently posted a photo on his Facebook page showing him next to a sign that says, "Effective Oct. 1, 2021, Dr. Valentine will no longer see patients that are not vaccinated against COVID-19."

After sharing the picture on social media, Valentine wrote that three unvaccinated patients asked where they could get vaccinated, according to The Birmingham News.

"If they asked why, I told them COVID is a miserable way to die and I can't watch them die like that," Valentine wrote.