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'There's not enough of us to go around': VA nurses rally in Aurora claiming a staffing crisis

Meanwhile, hospital officials assert there is no nationwide staffing shortage.
VA nurses rally in Aurora claiming a staffing crisis, while hospital officials say there is no nationwide staff shortage
Posted at 10:19 PM, Jun 27, 2024

AURORA, Colo. — Across the street from the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Aurora, around a dozen nurses rallied to call attention to what they believe is a staffing crisis at the hospital.

Sharda Fornnarino is the National Nurses United local director and an outpatient surgical coordinator for the VA. She has worked for the hospital for 25 years.

“The morale has been terrible. We've seen some of the lowest staffing that we've ever had. Even during COVID, we had more staffing," said Fornnarino. “After COVID, we saw the mass exodus of nurses leave, and then I think once the environment stabilized, I think the hospitals decided, 'okay, now it's time to open up our gates and start to hire again.' And unfortunately, that didn't really happen as well for the VA.”

Fornnarino and the rest of the nurses are concerned their staffing levels impact the quality of care for patients.

“Since COVID essentially, which was about the time that I started, our ICU specifically has been staffed at less than 85% of its functional capacity," said Jordan le Blanc, an ICU nurse at the VA. “The most immediate fear I have is that any veteran or any patient, any system will get less than they deserve, less than the total dignity that each individual really, really deserves."

Ricardo Ortega, a Homeless Primary Care nurse, said there are 57 open positions at the VA hospital in Aurora.

"They are constantly asking nurses to come in and cover shifts. And it can be exhausting," said Ortega. “Our wait time is about four to six months to see a primary care provider.”

This week, two reports were released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of the Inspector General detailing the results of two health care inspections into the hospital.

One revealed cardio-thoracic surgeries were paused at the VA from September of 2022 to October of 2023, and that all cardio-thoracic "surgical staff had either resigned or were terminated" in that time.

The other report substantiated claims that key senior leaders at the hospital created a "culture of fear" among employees who "felt psychologically unsafe, deeply disrespected, and dismissed."

A representative of the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, Nick Sanchez, said there are open nursing positions at the Aurora hospital and that they are currently looking to recruit and hire.

Sanchez also sent over a longer statement approved by the VA Press Secretary, Terrence Hayes. The statement includes only national figures.

VA’s top priority is providing the world-class care that Veterans deserve, and we are committed to making sure we have nursing staff we need to deliver the soonest and best care to Veterans.

There is no nationwide hiring freeze on VA nurses, and we are continuing to hire nurses, as needed, across the country to ensure that we can deliver world-class care to Veterans. Over the past 3 years, VA has aggressively hired nurses nationwide – increasing our nursing workforce by 14,000 nurses to a total of 122,000 nurses, the largest nursing workforce in the country and in the history of VA. VA is also retaining our great nurses, with turnover rates currently at 3.4% – far outperforming the private sector []. There are also locations where we need to continue hiring nurses, and we are doing that – as demonstrated by the below hiring numbers.

Partly as a result of these hiring efforts and our great nurses, VA is currently delivering more care to more Veterans [] than ever before, outperforming non-VA care, and Veterans trust VA care at all-time record rates:

1. Veterans trust VA care at all-time record rates: Veteran outpatient trust [] is at 91.8% -- an all-time high and up 6% since the survey began in 2017.

2. VA care is outperforming non-VA care:  
  • Hospital ratings: In 2023, 67% of VA hospitals included in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services [] (CMS) annual Overall Hospital Quality Star Ratings received either 4 or 5 stars, compared to only 41% of non-VA hospitals. This was the first time VA hospitals were included in the CMS Star Ratings.
  • Patient satisfaction surveys: In 2023, according to Medicare’s latest nationwide survey of patients [], VA hospitals outperformed non-VA hospitals on all 10 core patient satisfaction metrics — including overall hospital rating, communication with doctors, communication about medication, willingness to recommend the hospital, and more.
  • Peer-reviewed studies: In 2023, a systematic review of studies [] about VA health care concluded that VA health care is consistently as good as — or better than — non-VA health care.
3. Wait times are down: For new patients in April 2024, there was an 11% decrease in average wait times for VA primary care and a 7% decrease in average mental health wait times compared to same time last year. (In April, VA completed 11% more new patient appointments than last year – including nearly 13% more new patient mental health appointments.)

VA appreciates our partnership with National Nurses United and will continue to work with them directly to resolve their concerns.

Key data on hiring VA nurses: 

Nursing Assistant

Licensed Practical Nurse

Registered Nurse







2024 (as of April)










Is there a shortage of VA staff? 

There is no nationwide shortage of VA staff. After a record year of hiring in 2023, VA currently has the largest health care workforce in our history – and we are retaining those great employees at all-time record rates. Because of these efforts, we are now able to deliver more high-quality care to more Veterans than ever before in our nation’s history. While VA needs to -- and continues to – strategically hire in several key areas and locations, such as mental health care and targeted locations (such as locations with ongoing increases in health care enrollees), VA has the nationwide staffing total we need to deliver for our nation’s Veterans.

VA is always working to improve the care we deliver Veterans, and – as a result of our recent hiring and retention efforts – VA is currently able to deliver more care and better care to Veterans than ever before:

· More Veterans are choosing VA care: VA enrolled 401,006 Veterans in VA health care over the past 365 days — 30% more than the 307,831 we enrolled the previous year. This is the most yearly enrollees since 2016, and nearly a 50% increase over pandemic-level enrollment in 2020.

· VA is delivering more care to more Veterans than ever before: VA delivered more than 116 million health care appointments to Veterans in 2023, surpassing the previous all-time record by more than 3 million appointments. VA has continued to expanded access to care by adding night clinics, weekend clinics, and more during recent access sprints.

· VA is continuing to expand access to care: VA is continuing to work aggressively to expand access to VA health care for all we serve. Over the past several months, VA has conducted Access Sprints — an initiative to expand access to care by offering night and weekend clinics, increasing the number of Veterans scheduled into daily clinic schedules, and more. As a result of these sprints, VA saw approximately 25,000 more new patients from October 2023 to February 2024 compared to the same period last year – and new patient appointments increased by 11%. Additionally, 81% of VA Medical Centers saw more new patients than the same period last year; 12% fewer new patients are waiting more than 20 or 28 days for an appointment; and 14% fewer new patients are waiting for appointments with a community provider due to wait time eligibility.

Last year, we exceeded our hiring goals in the Veterans Health Administration – growing at the fastest rate in 15 years and bringing in more than 61,000 external employees. Overwhelmingly, these hires were front-line clinicians and employees — the VA public servants who directly work with Veterans and deliver on our sacred mission. In total, VHA now has more employees than ever before in our history, and VA’s retention efforts also led to a 20% decrease in turnover rate among VHA employees from 2022 to 2023.

Our strategic hiring efforts thus far have still led us to grow by just over 3% since the beginning of this fiscal year, on top of our successful hiring year in FY23. There is nothing more important to VA than providing Veterans with the world-class care they deserve – wherever and whenever they need it. Veterans deserve the very best, and we will never settle for anything less.
VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes

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