NYSUT nurses made their voices heard at a virtual health care lobby day in early May.
Anne Goldman, chair of NYSUT’s Health Care Professional Council, led a slate of nurse activists who met with representatives from the offices of Gov. Kathy Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. They called for an end to forced overtime for home care nurses and improved training and better safeguards for school personnel who must provide medical assistance for students when emergencies arise.
“We need a school nurse in every building, but if others must step in, they need guidance so they can provide students with the right assistance at the right time,” said Goldman noting that in the wake of new bills requiring school staff to intervene in medical situations, they must be better prepared. “They’re not health care professionals, and those concerns aren’t being addressed in bills that shift the burden [to medically intervene] on to educators.”
She stressed the need for safeguards like wearable identifiers to help school staff quickly identify who students are and what help they require; ongoing training to ensure their intervention skills remain current; and a buddy system so school staffers have a backup in emergency situations.
Sandra Nin, a Federation of Nurses/ United Federation of Teachers member and nurse educator, noted that incorrect dosages can cause debilitating harm to pediatric patients, in particular.
“Children often don’t know the name and dosage of their medications,” she explained. “To do no harm, there must be a training system in place to maintain a standard of care.”
End mandatory OT for home care nurses
Although NYSUT advocacy led to a state law banning mandatory overtime for most nurses in 2008, home health care nurses weren’t included under the measure. This means that many are still forced to work unscheduled overtime with little or no warning, something that Raquel Webb Geddes, chapter leader for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, wants to end.
She explained to lawmakers that the nature of home health care nursing, which requires professionals to walk, drive and travel by public transportation to patient homes, means they must be alert, aware and rested, both to provide high-quality medical care and to ensure their own personal safety.
“The need for rest, to properly assess patients and avoid fatigue-related outcomes, is universal,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense — we deserve the same level of respect as other nurses.”
Additionally, Goldman explained, home care nurses don’t provide emergency care — they call 911 if issues arise — and their duties can be scheduled ahead.
“This speaks to corporate greed,” she said, noting that patients don’t want nurses in their homes at night and there is no need for it.
Representatives from the governor’s and lawmakers’ offices thanked the nurses for sharing their concerns and personal experiences.
Currently two bills, S.4885-A in the Senate and A.181-A in the Assembly, would include home care nurses under the definition of “nursing staff,” and provide them with the same protections other nurses already enjoy.
“This almost became law before the pandemic hit,” said Goldman. “At a time when health care is more unsafe than ever, home care nurses need this protection.”