COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Some Central Ohio nurses are demanding change as the COVID-19 pandemic and surging gun violence burdens hospital emergency departments.

Friday morning, a group of nurses outside Grant Medical Center held signs and chanted, “Be fair to those who care!” and “Safe ratios; safe staffing!”

The emergency department staff was not authorized to speak directly to the press, but they voiced their concerns publicly on the sidewalk across from the hospital’s main entrance.

“It is time to demand patient safety, protection for our licenses, respect for our professions from our upper management and a safe environment to practice in,” one nurse said.

OhioHealth, which operates Grant Medical Center, explained, “Hospitals across the country, including Grant, are treating a record number of patients and are experiencing high emergency department utilization due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, we have made several operational changes that enable us to increase capacity and care for a growing number of patients.”

In late January, Grant halted elective surgeries requiring overnight stays.

Friday’s protest came a week after OhioHealth announced Grant would enter crisis bedding. The procedure fills any available bed space with patients in an effort to increase capacity and decrease emergency wait times. However, the nurses said it creates unlimited nurse-to-patient ratios, straining an already short-staffed department.

“I’ve been the medic on A-desk, as well as being the nurse on A-side. I’m answering the squad box. I’m trying to take care of high acuity, post cardiac arrest patients and I’m being the medic on traumas, too,” one nurse explained. “Now we’re going to have 6, 7, 8, 9 patients of mine left for somebody else to hopefully care for. They’ve got 6, 7, 8, 9 of their own patients.”

She added, “Our patients are at risk, our safety is at risk. We are trying our best to take care of these patients, but this new process is dangerous. It increases our liability and our workload.”

OhioHealth released the following statement Friday:

“We have received feedback from some staff who are concerned about a few of these changes. We are listening to their concerns. The safety of our patients and the wellbeing of our staff is our highest priority and we appreciate the ongoing feedback from staff as we continue to adjust our operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We respect everyone’s right to assemble, speak freely and engage in peaceful protest as long as it does not negatively impact the safety of our patients.”

A spokesperson with the healthcare system said hospital administrators were meeting with the nurses in a series of listening sessions, intending to collaborate on a solution. She said leadership was open to continue meeting after Friday if the groups did not come to a satisfactory conclusion.

The nurses said they planned to continue protesting Saturday afternoon.