Kaleida Health, nurses at odds over dress code that mandates plain gray uniforms

Nurses at a health system in Buffalo, New York, are pushing back on a new dress code policy that would require them to wear plain gray uniforms. 

The update to Kaleida Health's dress code was set to go into effect this month, but the nearly 3,000 unionized nurses at the system balked at the policy change, according to an article from The Buffalo News. 

Officials at the health system say that the goal is to have clear standards for appearance that also obviously delineate which clinicians are nurses. However, nurses argue that scrubs in other colors or with prints add character, act as conversation starters and can relax anxious patients, especially at Kaleida's John R. Oishei Children's Hospital.

"I don't think it's really good for patients, and for a children's hospital, it makes no sense to do it there," Cori A. Gambini, R.N., president of the local Communications Workers of America union and a nurse at Kaleida's Millard Filmore Suburban Hospital, told the publication. 

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Kaleida isn't the first health system to mandate a simpler dress code amid concern that staff may appear unprofessional. Geisinger Health System's Geisinger Medical Center adopted grey or white scrubs with "registered nurse" and the system's logo embroidered on them. 

Geisinger decided to take a look at its dress code after a patient survey revealed that patients were having trouble distinguishing between different clinicians and that some staff were wearing casual clothes such as leggings, T-shirts and hoodies.

The survey revealed that the system had 70 different dress codes, which leaders later streamlined. 

Summa Health System also updated its dress code, banning staff from wearing long beards, certain "extreme" hair colors and from exposing too much skin. The updates, according to Summa executives, were to promote a more professional appearance. 

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The Kaleida nurses are willing to negotiate a new dress code as part of their upcoming union discussions, according to The Buffalo News article. The change would not take place until the next contract is in place. Union officials, nurses and Kaleida leaders met on several occasions in late 2017 to discuss the potential changes before Kaleida chose to delay the changes.