Rochester General Hospital President Kevin Casey M.D. is stepping down from the hospital presidency today. A gastroenterologist whose quarter-century career has been spent entirely at RGH, Casey plans to continue his practice at RGH.
Rochester Regional Health plans to conduct a nationwide search to fill the RGH presidency, RRH spokesperson Cristina Domingues said.
Casey has served as RGH president since February 2018. He leaves the post after a tumultuous two years in which the coronavirus pandemic stressed hospitals’ staffs and management nationally to their limits. His departure from the post comes days after activist nurses announced that they had filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to begin a drive to unionize RRH’s nursing and other non-physician clinical staff.
In a statement on its website, the new unionizing effort, the Rochester Union of Nurses and Allied Professionals, cited what the union’s organizers see as poor working conditions and the RRH administration’s failure to adequately address them as cause for the union drive.
“It has been made clear that decisions are not being made in our best interests, and it’s time for that to change,” the RUNAP statement reads. “Our mission is to provide care in a way that is safe to patients and nurses both. We cannot continue to meet the bare minimum of patient care because of lack of resources and staff.”
The union drive and Casey’s resignation as RGH president come three months into the tenure of a new RRH CEO, Richard Davis.
Davis, who goes by Chip, comes to RRH from Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, where he served as CEO of the system’s South Market and Henry Ford Hospital. He replaces Eric Bieber M.D., who retired in December after six years at RRH’s helm.
In a message to RRH staff last week, Davis greeted the union drive cautiously but clearly stated that RRH would not welcome the union with open arms.
“While we respect our nurses’ right to choose whether to be represented by a union, we firmly believe our ability to continue providing high-quality care and a positive and just work environment is best achieved by maintaining our existing direct working relationship with our employees, rather than working through a third-party labor union,” the CEO’s statement says.
As the Rochester Beacon previously reported, the coronavirus pandemic has put severe strains on area hospitals including RGH, with nursing staff taking much of the brunt.
Facing burnout, legions of nurses have left the profession or quit their regular hospital jobs to work for nurse staffing agencies. Known as travel nurses, agency nursing temps make up to three times as much as regular staff, sometimes working for the very hospital they quit.
In a March interview, RRH chief medical officer Robert Mayo M.D. acknowledged that a severe shortage of nursing staff was putting strains on hospital operations. The system’s nursing staff’s numbers were down approximately 25 percent, Mayo said at the time.
“We anticipate that it will take some time to refill those positions,” Mayo predicted. In the meantime, he added, paying “a huge premium” to hire travel nurses to fill the gap was placing financial pressures on RRH.
Such problems are by no means confined to RRH. In an earlier interview, University of Rochester Medical Center Chief Nursing Executive Karen Keady, citing similar nursing shortfalls in the UR Medicine system and a similar travel-nurse bind, told the Rochester Beacon that shoring up plummeting nursing staff ranks with travel nurses “causes issues financially (that) over time, (are) not sustainable.”