Several dozen nurses from across the state were on hand at the State House today to support representatives from the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United who testified at a hearing held by the Health Policy Commission on proposed guidelines for a key provision of a recently enacted law to ban the dangerous practice of mandatory overtime for nurses in acute care hospitals. The Commission is seeking input from nurses and other parties on recently unveiled proposed guidelines to determine what constitutes an emergency situation for purposes of allowing mandatory overtime. The draft guidelines are of great concern to nurses as they contain provisions nurses believe hospital administrators will use to skirt the law and continue to endanger patients. The use of mandatory overtime as an alternative to providing appropriate RN staffing in hospitals has been a regular practice in the state’s hospitals, which numerous studies have shown places patients at increased risk for serious medical errors. Follow the links below to read the testimony delivered today:
MNA/NNU Board Member and Morton Hospital nurse Linda Condon, RN described the importance of granting nurses the right to refuse a mandatory over time shift if he or she were to tired to provide safe patient care
MNA Board Member and Newton-Wellesley Hospital nurse Betty Sparks described her experience in responding to the Marathon Bombing and other disasters, to underscore the fact that in a true emergency, nurses always step up and do their part.
On August 6, 2012 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 MNA/NNU, supported by other advocates, has been 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 holes in nursing schedules, thus relying on overtime, either coerced or mandatory, to cover for their lack of nurses. The nurses are seeking changes to the guidelines that prevents these dangerous practices, grants nurse the right to refuse a mandatory overtime shift if she/he is too ill or fatigued to provide safe patient care, and to guarantee patients the right to know when they are being cared for by exhausted nurses so they can opt to seek care at a facility that is adequately staffed to ensure they receive appropriate care.