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Pictured is Sarah Saullo, a traveling nurse who shared her experiences in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties. She is advocating for better pay and working conditions for nurses.

Sarah Saullo always wanted to be a nurse.

Ever since she was a child, she played nurse to her baby dolls and as soon as she could she pursued education to make that dream come true. Taking care of those who are sick and need her help has been her main focus — and it still is.

However, nursing turned out to be less of the dream she thought it was and, at times, is more akin to a nightmare.

“I have been a nurse for nearly 15 years,” the Jamestown resident said. “I look back thinking how naive I was as a new grad thinking I’d be able to save lives and provide excellent care. Little at that time did I know about the nursing outlook, the deplorable conditions and politics behind it.”

Saullo was recently employed as a nurse at a local hospital but had to become a traveling nurse throughout the region to make ends meet. As a single mother of four, a regular nursing paycheck was hard to stretch.

“I was living paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “I made $10 more an hour than someone that’s working at Tim Hortons or Target. Unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios deferred me from providing the care to my patients that they deserve. I began travel nursing last year to be able to make a decent living as a single mom of four. Finally, I was making the money that I deserved. I do have a master’s degree with 15 years of nursing experience.”

Compensation isn’t the only problem nurses are facing, Saullo said. Patient load has increased as well.

“Every day I am working as a nurse, respiratory (therapist), aide, a housekeeper and maintenance as these positions are vacant,” she said. “I am spit on, hit and verbally attacked by patients. I am at the bedside of those passing when no one else is. I am making critical assessments that save lives. I suffer from anxiety from the traumas I have witnessed. Fair compensation is not too much to ask in order to keep nurses at the bedside to decrease nurse-patient ratios and provide the quality of care that patients deserve.”

The reason Saullo decided to share her concerns with the public is the recent push health care organizations have made across the nation to cap the amount traveling nurses can make.

Saullo said many nurses are fleeing hospitals and working for travel nursing organizations to be fairly compensated as they cannot currently achieve that pay rate at hospitals.

“Their staff are leaving to go travel, leaving them vacancies at their organizations,” she said. “However, in reality, they are complaining about the problem that they have created. Nurses are overworked and underpaid. If they had paid their nurses appropriately, they wouldn’t leave for better opportunities. Nurses need to have a voice and have their voices be heard. We need better pay and better nurse-patient ratios.”

“If you treated your nurses how they should be treated, you pay them and you listen to them — if you treat them well, and you listen to the — you’re going to stop having such high turnover and you’re going to have more nurses on the floor providing care,” Saullo said. “Your nurse-to-patient ratios aren’t going to be as high and you’re going to be able to provide better care.”

As it stands, nursing staff are overworked and have too high of a patient load, Saullo said. On any given day, Saullo said she can have anywhere from 10 to 13 patients.

“Ideally, it would be like five to six patients per telemetry medical-surgical unit, and you’re having 13 patients and you’re not having an aide,” she said. “Aides are in the same boat as us. They make minimum wage and they’re required to do patient care and post-mortem care. Who wants to have that job?”

Saullo generally works in telemetry and med surge pediatric care. Currently, she works as a travel nurse on a COVID unit.

“(COVID patients) can change in a heartbeat,” she said. “So, when you have 10 COVID patients, your eyes need to be on each patient monitoring them.”

Saullo said nurses are using their skills, their education and energy to help save lives, which has become even more difficult throughout the pandemic.

Saullo said when the day ends, and she finds herself at home, that doesn’t mean she left her work at work.

“You don’t just walk into a hospital and walk out and forget about what has happened that day,” she said. “You remember that stuff forever — for your lifetime. I would love to know how many nurses are diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and PTSD.”

These problems aren’t just local problems, Saullo said.

“It’s all across the nation,” she said. “It’s not just in this area, it’s everywhere. It’s a little crazy because if you look at anything, there’s nobody even talking about it. All of a sudden, this popped up, ‘Oh, let’s cap travel nurse pay because they’re making too much.’ Nobody even talks about nurses.”

Saullo said she will continue to fight for better pay and working conditions going forward. At this time, she has plans to attend the United Nurses March on May 12 in Washington D.C.

“I was my voice to be heard,” she said.

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