COLUMBUS, OH (WCMH) – Nurses throughout Ohio gathered for a protest at the Statehouse Thursday to rally for better working conditions.

In recent years, nurses said staff shortages and mental health challenges have pushed them to their limits and hope their message will encourage their employers to incite change.

Ashley Lantto, who organized the Columbus march, said she and other nurses are losing sight of why they became a nurse in the first place — to help people.

“I just want people to be put over profit at this point,” Lantto said. “When we are getting these emails and being told that the cost to save is costing more and more and more, it’s not okay.”

Protesters said the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the issues that have existed for years.

Rick Lucas, president of the Ohio State University Nurses Organization said it feels as though the nurses are voicing their concerns to deaf ears, which adds to their everyday stress.

Staffing shortages and other challenges affect not only the nurses, Lucas said, but also their patients.

“Staffing has reached a critical point, and hospitals just aren’t doing enough to get nurses in the door to care for patients,” Lucas said. “And so nurses are leaving the bedside at record numbers.”

Kathie Gaton said she and other nurses hope their chants were loud enough to have their voices heard.

“It scares me for where healthcare is going when they are more worried about the budget than they are about the patient,” Gaton said.

Several nonprofits also showed up to support the cause, including Nurse Guardians, an organization created to provide legal support to nurses. The co-founder of the organization said Nurse Guardians will help nurses afford potential legal fees by providing grants to nurses facing criminal charges for accidents on the job.

Ohio Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) attended the march and said he is introducing a bill to the Statehouse that would provide support to nurses who encounter violence in the workplace.

“It is a bill that would require workplace providers to put violence prevention plans in place,” Weinstein said. “It would also require the Ohio Department of Health to put in a system that would track workplace violence because the American Nurses Association says half the workplace violence incidents are not reported.”

Weinstein said the bill is now out for co-sponsorship. He encouraged nurses who support the bill to contact their local leaders and urge them to support the legislation.

NBC4 asked the 3 major hospital systems to respond to the nurses’ concerns. Representatives from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center sent us a statement that reads:

“We respect our nurses’ rights to demonstrate peacefully during personal time. We have a long-standing commitment to patient safety and care deeply about workplace safety and job satisfaction for our nurses and other frontline healthcare personnel. Progress on these issues comes through working together. The Wexner Medical center’s top priority is providing high-quality, patient-centered care, while also sustaining a positive and engaging work environment.”

The spokesperson from Mount Carmel Health responded with a statement saying:

“Nurses are central to our mission to be a transformational presence in the community. We are committed to ensuring that our nurses work in a safe environment and receive a competitive wage for their critical work. We are incredibly grateful for our dedicated nurses who deliver exceptional, healing care to our patients every day.”

OhioHealth declined to comment, as the protest was sponsored by the Ohio Nurses Association (ONA) and their organization does not employ ONA’s nurses at their sites.