Yale-New Haven Nurses Go Blue

Melissa Bailey PhotoAfter a hotly contested election, nurses at the city’s biggest hospital are showing up to work in a new uniform—though some aren’t happy with the color.

According to new hospital rules that kicked in last Monday, all of the 2,000-plus nurses at Yale-New Haven Hospital are now required to wear standardized scrubs to work, instead of choosing their own colors and suppliers. The color of their uniform was decided after a hospital election, where the nurses were asked to chose between three shades of blue.

Alefteria Manchisi and Anna Norko (pictured above, left to right) said they both voted for the winner—royal blue. They donned that color Tuesday, as they lined up for a quick lunch from Liu’s Lunch, a Chinese food cart on Cedar Street.

The two nurses both work with children in the pediatrics unit. Norko said she used to wear “fun” scrubs, bearing characters like SpongeBob SquarePants. Now the duo has shifted to solid colors, as per the new regulations. They both adopted the new dress code in December, before it became mandatory last week.

They said given that they have to wear a uniform, the royal blue is a good look.

Others disagreed. In an election last year, workers were asked to chose between three shades of blue: royal blue, navy blue and ceil blue, which is the most common color for hospital scrubs.

The winner, royal blue (pictured), happens to be the hospital’s official color.

The results left some suspicious about the final choice. Several hospital workers said they had the sense that ceil blue had been more popular, but that the hospital’s official color was chosen instead.

“Coincidence?” asked one male nurse, who was picking up lunch at the food carts. He said he and all his coworkers preferred ceil blue.

“It’s no coincidence that it’s the Yale color, not the one everybody wanted,” he concluded. He said he didn’t participate in the vote, because he thought it would be rigged. He and others said they were never informed of the final vote tally, which added to their suspicion.

Hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said the choice came about through a democratic process that took place over the past 18 months.

“It was completely driven by the nursing community,” he said. “This was not something that was brought from the top down.”

The hospital set up a steering committee, comprised only of nurses, to determine what the new uniforms would be. That committee chose the three shades of blue.

The election took place in May 2009, Petrini said. A total of 2,130 nurses were eligible to vote. Petrini said he didn’t know what the voter turnout was. He did give figures for the final tally.

According to results he gave, royal blue squeaked out a win by only 5 points:

Ceil Blue     29 percent
Navy Blue     33 percent
Royal Blue   38 percent

Petrini said he didn’t know whether those results were ever publicly announced, but the final winner was. After royal blue was chosen, he said, the hospital did a lot of outreach on the topic, including a series of events where nurses could try on the new uniforms.

Nurses are now given $100 per year to pay for the new uniforms, which all must all be bought through the same supplier.

The uniforms came in response to patient feedback, and are standard practice in other hospitals, Petrini said. Previously, nurses could wear whatever color and pattern of scrubs they wished.

“There was great variability in terms of the look of nurses and it confused our patients,” Petrini said. As a patient, he said, “you have a number of people coming into the room every day. This is an opportunity for [patients] to know who their caregivers are.”

All hospital workers follow a dress code, Petrini said. Nurses’ uniforms are the only ones that recently changed.

The new uniforms serve to “elevate the visibility and re-enforce the critical importance of the role of the nurse at Yale-New Haven,” Petrini said. “They deserve that recognition. They work awful hard.”

Lynn Maccubbin, who’s been a nurse at YNHH for 28 years, agreed. She was sitting on a bench outside the hospital during her lunch break Monday.

“I think the concept of having us wear the same color, from a patient perspective, is a pretty important concept,” she said. While she personally voted for navy blue, she said she thought the final choice was fair.

Nearby, on another bench, a 20-year veteran nurse named Mark grabbed lunch before a 3 p.m. shift in the Intensive Care Unit. He said he had voted for ceil blue, but he wasn’t upset.

He said he’d heard conspiracy theories about a fixed vote, too, but “it doesn’t matter if it’s fixed. It’s not like you’re voting for the president.”

“It doesn’t make any difference,” he opined. “It’s the job you do, it’s not what you wear.”

On another bench, a black nurse, who declined to give his name, said the color of his uniform doesn’t fix a bigger problem. He said in his six years at the hospital, patients often mistake him for a transport worker or aide because of the color of his skin. One patient asked him for identification when he entered the room to give care, he said.

“It doesn’t matter what color you’re wearing,” he said, “all they see is brown.”

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posted by: Tracey on July 28, 2010  8:44am

I think the hospital did the right thing standardizing uniforms. An elderly relative just spend a week at YNHH and there are a lot of folks in uniform coming in and out of that room every day. It helps to be able to spot an RN from the others. And Petrini is right, the nurses are the hardest working people I’ve seen and it’s not a pretty job at times.

The folks in pediatrics will figure out ways to make their uniforms more child friendly. They wear toys on their stethoscopes and do all sorts of goofy stuff to put the kids at ease.

As for the black nurse…sadly, he has chosen a profession where being a male is more of a question than being black.  I think this accounts for some of the confusion, but there is no doubt that stereotypes still prevail.  Hang in there because the times they are a-changing: those who still see color first are in the hospital beds now, but the younger generation really are quite different. Maybe this nurse ought to consider pediatrics where he will be perceived differently.

posted by: robn on July 28, 2010  9:00am

Three cheers for all of the medical workers in New Haven! They bust their butts and I for one appreciate it.

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on July 28, 2010  9:25am

Wow, what a choice, 3 shades of blue?  It’s like asking my kids if for dinner they want salisbury steak, meatloaf, or hamburgers.

Although I do wonder how much time was wasted on this decision, and how much money…

posted by: Michelle on July 28, 2010  9:35am

As a nurse in the hospital I agree that it is better to have the nurses and all other staff wear particular uniforms/colors. It does make it clear to the patients and families what the different roles are. However, the company they chose to use makes absolutely awful scrubs. The seams are not even, the texture is like wearing brillo and the sizes are never accurate or fit well. They should have chose the color and we should be able to buy our scrubs from whatever supplier we want in that color.

posted by: Mark on July 28, 2010  10:46am

I agree with the standardization of uniforms. But the nurses and doctors should be able to wear scrub jackets (of their choosing) over the standard color-coded scrubs - especially in the wings that deal with children.

posted by: pete on July 28, 2010  10:51am

why not bring back those nurse hats

posted by: Mister Jones on July 28, 2010  11:01am

Ahh uniforms… I guess no one is pining for the days when nurses all wore white, with nurse’s caps unique to their school or hospital.

posted by: jane on July 28, 2010  1:24pm

this is an article about uniforms, did the guy really have to bring race into it???

posted by: nfjanette on July 28, 2010  5:04pm

Do other the doctors and other staff also have to wear uniforms with standardized colors?  I can see the benefit of being able to quickly identify the job function of hospital personnel, much like the Navy implements on the desk of some ships.

posted by: Thomas on July 28, 2010  5:16pm

The standardized uniforms are much more efficient to spot the who a patient is looking for as for the black nurse it might not be the color of his skin but many people don’t think nurse when they see a male.  He’s a real pioneer.

posted by: stevesywonder on July 28, 2010  6:06pm

Wow. And unionizing the nursing staff to 1199 was a big deal. Improved working conditions, terms and conditions of employment notwithstanding (included - but not limited to - job classifications, wage schedules, bonuses, benefits, safety, overtime equalization etc.), THIS vote was a big deal? The union would have walked in on behalf of the nursing staff, polled the nurses transparently, and provided management with their decision. If you guys collectively voted to wear sponge bob the union would bargain on your behalf. How will you ever know if THIS vote was rigged:)? You could even vote to wear a uniform based upon the floor and specialty you work for/in. Collective bargaining is a good thing!

posted by: RNSupporter on July 28, 2010  6:59pm

nfjanette…yes, the idea is to have every care provider in a particular color so patient’s can easily identify who their caregiver is..so one would know who their Patient Care Associate is…who their Nurse is, who the Housekeeper is….Who the patient transporter is….most of the employees are in uniform and more will be in uniform over the coming months. In the past, a housekeeper and a nurse could technically be wearing the same scrub uniform.  Not anymore.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 28, 2010  7:40pm

They should go back to this uniform.

Historic nursing uniforms: the good, the bad and the ugly.


Also is there a law in this state like other states that don’t allow doctors and nurses to leave the hospital due to this.

Hospital Scrubs Are a Germy, Deadly Mess Bacteria on doctor uniforms can kill you.



If not there should be.

posted by: anon on July 29, 2010  1:17am

This article fails to name the supplier of these uniforms. Since YNHH nurses must now order from a single, designated supplier, I would think this would be important info. Is this a union supply company? Are the uniforms made in the US or abroad? Are they sweat-shop made? The color of scrubs seems trivial to me in comparison with these larger issues.

Thanks for bringing some substance in via the last lines, though.

posted by: Mr BIG on July 29, 2010  11:07am

Scrubs shouldn’t be worn outside of the hospital, in my opinion.  If they’re meant to just be a uniform, then nurses can wear a regular business tie, jacket, or skirt with the hospital logo.  But my understanding is that the uniforms have a functional cleanliness purpose, and taking them outside and subjecting them to all different environments defeats that purpose.

posted by: Sassy on July 29, 2010  2:00pm

Uniform purchases all from one supplier?  I’m surprised there is not more objection to this.  Not everyone is a “standard” size.  Our company custom makes scrubs, yes, in royal blue, for those who need longer (or shorter)inseams and in sizes XXXS to 6XL.  I hope the company they chose can provide this service for their hard working nurses.  They deserve it.


posted by: Susan on July 29, 2010  7:13pm

As I remember two votes took place because the first one was determined to be skewed. Employees voted on-line with no limit to the number of times they could vote. The first vote was for navy blue, second vote royal. Funny cause everyone I spoke to said they voted for ceil blue?

posted by: K on July 31, 2010  4:38pm

Susan is correct.Also we must order scrubs online through unitex….$26.00 for set of basic srubs…more expensive for other styles.They were only 20 a set at work n gear and better quality..don’t mind wearing the uniform just wish quality was better.You will never convince me that vote wasnt fixed…nobody wanted yale blue except yale nursing administration…i voted for navy.

posted by: Walt on August 2, 2010  6:24am

Good idea, but who cares what color?  Maybe a miscellany of colors to differentiate each job specialty

Just got out of St.  Raphe’s a few days ago,  and would recommend   similar rules for that Hospital.

Nice people and   great service,  but   I had no idea whether I was being helped by an RN. LPN,  or just some slob who enjoyed checking out sick people.

Need standardized uniforms,  picture badges with prominent titles of the wearer etc.

Yes, and I would like the return of the old starched whites (You could tell whether of not your helper was   sanitary),  and the weird caps denoting where the folks were trained.

posted by: pellykate on August 4, 2010  12:05am

I wish the hats would come back, too. Ever since I wanted to become a nurse I’ve wanted that hat.