May 09, 2018

Nurses to lawmakers: Safe staffing saves lives!

Author: Liza Frenette
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nurse advocacy day
Caption: “You feel like you’re running the gauntlet to give out meds,” said UFT hospital nurse Lisa Cunningham, advocating lawmakers for NYSUT ‘s bill for better staff-patient ratios. Photo by Liza Frenette.

Nurses have historically been known for wearing white uniforms, and yesterday throngs of them revisited that tradition by donning white “safe staffing” T-shirts for visits to lawmakers — insisting that it’s time for safe staffing because it saves lives. Period.

In a rush of events at the State Capitol and Legislative Office Building, with lobbyists packing elevators and press conferences drawing news reporters, nurses stood out in numbers and sheer determination.

Inadequate staffing can cause patients harm, ranging from readmission, health complications, increased chance of infections, cardiac problems, bedsores and pneumonia, nurses told lawmakers.

One nurse reported having charge of 24 people at one time.

“We are compromised,” said Anne Goldman, chair of NYSUT’s Health Care Professionals Council and a UFT vice president overseeing nurses. “Staffing is the critical ingredient for all the care we get. We need a legislative mandate….It has to be a law, just like seat belts. It’s a public health issue.”

Doretta Janes, a NYSUT nurse member from Brookhaven Hospital, said members were asked what is the top concern in their jobs. “Staffing was the number one issue. Not money,” she said.

Her colleague Cynthia Lacey said she had three critical care patients several nights ago, as did another nurse. “That should have never happened,” she said.

NYSUT and other nursing unions support the Safe Staffing Ratios for Quality Care Act. It would require hospitals to comply safe staffing minimums, based on patient population.

At a group luncheon, hundreds of nurses in white from NYSUT, Public Employees Federation, CWA, New York State Nurses Association, 1199SEIU, UFT and Senior Action Council packed the Empire State Plaza Convention Center to shout, sing and commit to get this bill passed.

Longtime supporter and bill sponsor Assemblymember Aileen Gunther, D-Monticello, said the Assembly has passed the bill numerous times and it is time for the Senate to pass it, as well. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, said the bill is about nurses, patient safety and fair treatment.

NYSUT is also advocating for a school nurse in every building in the state’s Big 5 city school districts. Nurses are needed to help with students with increasingly complex medical care needs, as well as everyday illnesses and injuries. With poverty on the rise and an increase in homelessness among students, the school nurse is the primary care provider for many.

A student told lawmakers there are almost 6,000 students at Brooklyn Tech and one school nurse. He said when he goes to the office to be seen for care there are seven or eight students already waiting, a nurse talking with parents on the phone, and students walking in and leaving because it’s too busy.

NYSUT’s third priority health care bill would restrict mandatory overtime for home care nurses – except in cases of emergency. Many nurses told nerve-wracking tales of being regularly assigned extra patients mid-day, and working 11 and 12 hours shifts each day as a result. For some of them, this means driving in rural areas in snowstorms, or walking in dark, unsafe city neighborhoods alone at night. It means coming home late to their own families. It means patients waiting for hours to be seen, and having a nurse attend to them who is exhausted while he or she sets up respirators, tube feedings, or changes complicated dressings.

The grassroots activists told lawmakers that in hospital and home care staffing issues, decisions are made by lay people, not the medical professionals, and they based on profit, not on best practice. Nurses, however, say they are committed to achieving the best end results for the patients.

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