Nurses along with other advocates will be on hand to push for a clear definition of a government declared emergency to prevent hospitals from skirting the law and endangering patients
On August 6, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a health care payment reform bill that includes a ban on mandatory overtime proposed by the MNA/NNU. This measure, which was enacted on Nov. 5 2012, prohibits a hospital from requiring a nurse to work mandatory overtime (no more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period) except in the case of an emergency situation where the safety of the patient requires its use and when there is no reasonable alternative. The Health Policy Commission, which was established under the law, is charged with developing guidelines and procedures to determine what constitutes an emergency situation for the purposes of allowing mandatory overtime. The MNA/NNU, supported by other community and health care advocates, is seeking a very clear definition of an emergency that includes “any declared national, state or municipal disaster or other catastrophic event, such as a natural disaster, act of terrorism or extended power outage, that will substantially alter the public’s health care requirements.” The nurses want to ensure that the final definition takes any interpretation of what constitutes an emergency out of the hands of hospital administrators who have and will continue to seek any opportunity to skirt the law.
Under this law, hospitals cannot use mandatory overtime as an alternative to providing the RN staffing needed to provide the care patients require. Unfortunately, for years, and to an even greater degree in the past two years, hospitals across the state have cut their RN staffing levels, left vacant nursing positions unfilled, and refused to hire contingency staff to cover the holes in nursing schedules, thus relying on overtime, either coerced or mandatory, to cover for their lack of nurses. As a result, some hospitals, such as UMass Medical Center in Worcester where there have been six layoffs of nurses in the last two years, have classified an increase in census, or a sick call by a few nurses as an emergency situation that justifies their use of forced overtime as a staffing tool. The nurses are seeking a definition of emergency that prevents these dangerous practices.