May 12, 2015

Unions, nurses lobby for Quality Care Act

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
health care advocacy
Caption: Howard Sandau - a member of the United Federation of Teachers and NYSUT's 2012 Health Care Professional of the Year - speaks at today's press conference. Photo by Marty Kerins.

The Capitol and Legislative Office Building, which are always tripping-room-only on Tuesdays when the Legislature is in session, was packed today with what one lawmaker called " a terrific seas of turquoise." All eyes are on getting a vote on the Quality Care Act.

The teal T-shirts were won by hundreds of nurses hailing from all parts of the state for Health Care Lobby Day, representing NYSUT, PEF, NYSNA, CWA and New York Statewide Senior Action Council and calling out loudly for safe nurse-patient staffing ratios.

At a press conference this morning in the Legislative Office Building, scheduled between visits to lawmakers, nurses and union leaders pressed firmly for safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.

Later, at a vast group luncheon, nurses held up signs that were left on every chair as legislative and union speakers came to the podium in support of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act. "FLOOR VOTE, NOW!" declared the signs.

health care advocacy
L-R: Arbetter, Goldman and Rock. Photo by Marty Kerins.

And at the start of the day, Anne Goldman, chair of NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council and a UFT vice president, joined Cori Gambini, a CWA-repressented nurse, and Barbara Rock, a nurse represented by PEF, for an interview on live radio. Susan Arbetter, host of WCNY's Capitol Pressroom, said safe staffing concerns have been called a "critical" issue. Goldman explained how lack of safe staffing is causing lack of quality care, often requiring readmission.

"Once you exceed a normal range (of patients-nurses), the incidence of mortality … infection ... and readmission increases," Goldman said. With a drop in nurse staffing, the first line of patient defense is eroded, she said.

The interview was in Arbetter's booth in the vintage Legislative Correspondents Association room, tucked away in the Capitol in downtown Albany.

The Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act would require acute care facilities and nursing homes to implement healthy and safe nurse-patient ratios. Adequate levels have a significant impact on assessing, monitoring, caring for and safely discharging patients.

When hospitals save money by using fewer nurses, "the patient doesn't get a discount," said NYSUT member Howard Sandau, a registered nurse who works in hospital critical care and who spoke at the press conference. "But they get the possibility of a terrible outcome."

Nurses, he said, are considered a cost rather than the benefit that they are.

"Enough is enough."

Utica nurse Marianne Reardon dropped a large stack of papers from the podium to the floor at the press conference. She said the 532 pieces of paper were a record of assignments despite objections in just three months at two hospitals. The objections were based on staffing and unsafe conditions for staff.

The millions spent on hospital administrator salaries and advertising belies the hospital argument that there is not enough money to hire more nurses, said Reardon, an argument put forth frequently by the Healthcare Association of New York.

The system is used inappropriately, said Goldman, when hospital administrators refuse to bolster staffing to its normal levels when a nurse calls in sick.

"There's clear evidence supporting what we're asking for," she said.

"Plain and simple, safe staffing saves lives," said Andy Pallotta, NYSUT executive vice president. Passing the Quality Care Act "should be an end-of-the-session priority."

He introduced Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers and Senate Democratic leader, who shared that today's Health Care Lobby Day is on the birthday of Florence Nightingale, a historically famous nurse.

Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, D-NY, who cheered on the turquoise shirts, said that if there were not enough heat in the hospital, administrators would not choose to give some patients heat, while others go without. Some patients would not get food while others go without. And yet some patients do not get proper staffing. "And it seems to me that's kind of basic," he said.

NYSUT is also supporting a school nurse in every building in the state's five large cities and no mandatory overtime for home care nurses, who often work and travel long hours, who should be allowed the same right as hospital nurses.

AGENDA: Health Care Professionals Lobby Day

NYSUT Health Care members were in Albany May 11-12 to lobby for three key bills: safe staffing; a school nurse in every school building; and prohibiting mandatory overtime for home health care workers.

Add your voice to the effort by using the links above to send MAC letters to lawmakers in support of the key health care bills.

The following bills are the focus of the health care professionals lobby day:

Safe Staffing Ratios for Quality Care Act

A.1548 Gottfried (Passes)/S.782 Hannon (Health): 

  • Requires that applications for an acute care facility include a staffing plan for registered nurses.
  • Establishes minimum nurse-to-patient ratios.
  • Requires mandatory compliance with staffing plans.
  • Establishes increased civil penalties for noncompliance.
  • Sets standards for public disclosure of staffing standards.

(MOT) Hours Worked by Home Care Nurses     

A.1127 Gunther (Labor)/S.3100 Ritchie (Labor):  

  • Restricts consecutive hours of required work by nurses in the home-care setting except in the case of an emergency; does not prohibit a nurse from voluntarily working overtime.
  • When the anti-mandatory overtime bill was signed into law (Ch.493 of the laws of 2008), home-care nurses were unjustly excluded. This legislation seeks to grant them the same protections against mandatory overtime abuse that other New York state nurses enjoy.

Minimum School Nurse Staffing Standards     

A.1497 Gunther (Education)/S.1755 Robach (Education):  

  • Requires the NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers and Syracuse school districts to employ at least one school nurse per school building.
  • Requires each district to consult with a professional nursing association to determine the need for additional staff beyond the one-nurse minimum.

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