July-August 2012
June 28, 2012

Nurses: Safeguards needed for patients

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Sen. Thomas Duane, D-Manhattan, speaks with New York City health care professionals, including UFT member Cora Shillingford, far right, who serves on the NYSUT Health Care Professionals Council. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Unhappy with critical problems with patient care and worker safety, NYSUT, along with nurses and other health care professionals, will continue to press lawmakers for legislation that would safeguard patients and professionals.

"It's absolutely unethical to assume we're providing people with safe care," said NYSUT Board member Anne Goldman, who chairs the union's Health Care Professionals Council.

The state Senate passed a bill before the legislative session ended; however, the Assembly said it will take up the bill after elections.

The bill (S.7735/A.10715-A), which is supported by numerous unions, calls for a work group within the Department of Health charged with promulgating rules and regulations for a statewide safe patient handling policy using training and equipment. The policy would vary depending on the type of health care facility (nursing home, hospital, etc.) and the population it serves. All facilities would need to file a plan of compliance.

Health care workers are injuring themselves and patients when they are moving them, Goldman said.

Today's patients are more critically ill. Hospital reports show too many falls and injuries — nurses who have broken their backs or fractured their ribs when lifting or moving patients.

When injured nurses cannot work, administrators either call in expensive subs to fill their slots, or staffing is short again.

Andy Pallotta, NYSUT executive vice presiden, said by mandating safe patient handling equipment and training in hospitals and nursing homes, there would be fewer injuries, fewer workers' compensation claims and improved patient care.

NYSUT health care workers advocated for the bill during a special lobby day this spring and shared their stories with lawmakers.

Andrei Orlov, United Federation of Teachers, told Sen. Thomas Duane, D-Manhattan, how he and another nurse struggled to lift a 400-pound patient, who kept apologizing for his weight. "I dislocated my shoulder and the damage that was done was so significant I couldn't lift my baby, or lift a cup of coffee," he said.

Michelle Scott-Robertson, Albany County Nursing Home Professional Staff Association, talked about filling out workers' compensation claims for aides and nurses who have sustained back or neck injuries when transferring semi-mobile patients.

Hospital nurses are on overload. Howard Sandau, UFT, stopped in at Lutheran Medical, where he works, before heading to Albany to advocate for safe patient-staff ratios.

"I went into the ER this morning. I saw the despair on the (two) nurses' faces. They had 12 critical care patients." Sandau is the NYSUT 2012 Health Care Professionals Member of the Year. He noted that patients have fewer bed sores and infections with more care, among the many concerns that warrant more staffing.

Goldman agreed. "The probability of death goes up 25 percent when you add a seventh patient," she grimly told legislators.

The day-long lobbying was buoyed by a lively mid-day rally in the convention center, where legislators from both Houses spoke in support of the bills, and nurses hoisted signs and called for change.

Nurses also called for a school nurse in every school building in the Big Five districts: Syracuse, New York City, Rochester, Yonkers and Buffalo. (S.4557/A.1753)

Goldman told lawmakers how an 8-year-old stroke victim was saved by the assessment of the school nurse. Another school nurse determined why a kindergarten child had inexplicably begun crying and acting out in class every day: the child's teeth were rotting from drinking too much sugary soda, and nerve damage was causing extreme pain.

Some of today's students have oxygen, require insulin, trach tubes and have more serious disabilities, said Alicia Schwartz, UFT.

Concern is growing. On the national level, AFT Healthcare is advocating for the Student-to-School Nurse Ratio Improvement Act to create a program awarding grants to states for projects to reduce the student-to-school nurse ratio where there are 1,000 or more students to every school nurse.

AFT reports in the United States there are approximately 65,000 school nurses to care for 53 million elementary and secondary school students, more than 20 million of whom have chronic health conditions.