Source: Yahoo news. http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/2001.../nurses_1.html
Bill to Eliminate Mandatory Overtime for Nurses Introduced
WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - Nurses in government and private hospitals could no longer be forced to work overtime in most cases under legislation introduced in the House Thursday.
The ``Registered Nurses and Patients Protection Act,'' sponsored by Reps. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., James McGovern, D-Mass., and Hilda Solis, D-Calif., would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to bar an employer from requiring a ``licensed health care employee'' to work more than eight hours per day, or more than 80 hours every two weeks. The bill specifically exempts physicians, and would allow mandatory overtime in certain situations, including natural disasters or declared ''states of emergency.'' The bill would not restrict the use of voluntary overtime.
At a news conference to introduce the measure, nurses said the use of mandatory overtime has driven many from the profession. ``Imagine being told near the end of your shift that you must stay for another eight hours and will be threatened with discipline or termination if you refuse,'' said Sandy Ellis, of St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA. ``Imagine that your child stands terrified, waiting for you at the school bus stop because you were forced to stay at work and nobody was there to pick him up,'' she said. ``No nurse should have to choose between her license and the safety of her children.''
But backers of the bill said the matter is about more than just humane working conditions. ``We are here not just to protect the rights of health care professionals, but the safety of their patients,'' said Rep. McGovern.
``Common sense tells us that forced overtime puts patients at great risk,'' said Rep. Lantos ``And at a time when hospitals are trying to reduce medical errors, forced overtime makes no sense.''
Hospital officials said in some cases hospitals have no choice but to order overtime. ``We have a severe nursing shortage in this country; hospitals have beds being closed, ambulances being diverted and problems providing access to care,'' said Dianne Anderson, president of the American Organization of Nurse Executives, a branch of the American Hospital Association. ``This legislation would severely hinder hospitals' ability'' to provide care, she said.
But Jill Forillo, of the California Nurses' Association said that the nursing shortage might actually be helped by eliminating forced overtime. She said a survey conducted in California found that state has some 50,000 RNs and LPNs who could be working in hospitals, but have chosen not to. ``The two top reasons nurses are leaving the hospital environment is because of short staffing and forced overtime,'' she said.
And Rep. Lantos rejected contentions that hospitals cannot afford to hire more nurses. ``Speaking as an economist, I understand hospitals have many economic problems,'' he said. ''None of those problems can be solved by forcing nurses to do unconscionable work.''