News & Events

Nurses are right to argue there’s safety in numbers

Nurses fighting for HB 1186, Quality Patient Care/Safe Staffing legislation, have won the support of the Springfield Union News. This Sunday’s paper included an editorial in support of the legislation, which would regulate nurse-to-patient ratios in Massachusetts health care facilities (see editorial below). Nurses and citizens who want to join the campaign to pass this important bill can do so by participating in a statewide petition drive (May 1 – 7), which is being launched by the MNA to gather signatures in support of this bill.

Nurses are right to argue there’s safety in numbers
Sunday, April 21, 2002

The people who work in one of the state’s most critical helping professions are in desperate need of more help. Just ask any registered nurse if his or her patient load is manageable. For that matter, ask any patient who has ever been in a hospital bed waiting for a nurse to respond to a call for assistance.

While health professionals and patients agree that there are many things ailing the American health care system inadequate Medicaid reimbursements and costly prescription drugs, to name just two the critical shortage of nurses is among the most troubling symptoms.

Massachusetts nurses say that hospitals increasingly overburden them with responsibilities and overtime that can have negative, and potentially dangerous repercussions for the patients in their care.

Sandy Eaton, a nurse staffing a 12-hour, nighttime shift at Quincy Medical Center, shared his frustration this week during an informational session sponsored by the Massachusetts Senior Action Council in Northampton. Eaton said the safest number of patients for him to care for on his overnight shift in the acute-care facility is three or four, but staffing problems can require him to attend to a fifth patient.

That’s why Eaton has joined nurses across the state to urge passage of the Safe Staffing bill (House 1186) which would set minimum staffing levels for health care facility floors and units. The bill has been stalled in the Senate Committee on Health Care for months over the issue of mandatory overtime.

Hospital officials say their efforts to recruit nurses have been stymied by a statewide shortage, but nurses argue that there are many trained nurses in the state who refuse to practice mainly because they fear working in situations that are unsafe for themselves and for their patients. Eaton put it this way: "There’s no nursing shortage. There’s a shortage of nurses who want to put their licenses in jeopardy."

The total number of licensed RNs in the U.S. continues to rise by 5.4 percent from 1996 to 2000. However, the percentage who work in hospitals is steadily falling, from 68 percent in 1988 to 59 percent in 2000, according to national figures.

The California Nurses Association (CNA) believes it has a prescription for solving the problem. As a result of the group’s lobbying efforts, California became the first state in the nation to pass a Safe Staffing bill. The CNA is also pushing for improved retention, recruitment and retraining measures to reduce the nursing shortage. Still, the CNA lists safer nurse-to-patient ratios as the most essential ingredient in repairing the nursing infrastructure. Massachusetts should follow California’s lead and move the Safe Staffing bill out of committee.

© 2002 UNION-NEWS. Used with permission.