Published Mar 12, 2002
Action in the state capitol:
Tuesday, March 12, 2002
ADVANCE ALBANY BUREAU
"Legislation would protect 'whistleblower' nurses
But health care workers also want to have mandatory overtime outlawed
ALBANY, NY -- Health care employers who retaliate against "whistleblower" nurses can be fined under new legislation expected to become law in NY state, but some nurses say it isn't enough.
Nurses who report violations that threaten patients will have some protection under the measure, but advocates want the state to outlaw mandatory overtime for nurses and other health care employees, and say state law should ensure nursing staffs are at safe levels in hospitals and other facilities.
"It's the only way these conditions are going to be repaired, because the employers sure aren't taking the lead and doing it on their own," said Julie Semente, RN, an Annadale nurse who works in a Brooklyn hospital. She refused to identify her workplace, saying it could threaten her job.
Speaking at an Albany press conference, Ms. Semente recalled one incident when a nurse came to work on four hours' sleep -- after she had been forced to work a 16-hour shift.
Another nurse rejected an eight-hour overtime shift, according to Ms. Semente, because she had a 15-month child at home and her sitter refused to work overtime. But she was told, "You will arrange child care if you care about your job," according to Ms. Semente.
"When we are held hostage at the end of our shifts with forced overtime, or when we are forced to work beyond our limits, with no support staff [and] with a dangerous number of sick people to try to care for, is it any wonder we don't want to work in hospitals and nursing homes anymore?" Ms. Semente asked.
Alla M. Clark of Elm Park, a retired nurse who worked at Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Center and Home, questioned a situation that allows nurses' parental responsibilities to be pitted against their work schedules.
"It's a like a Catch-22," she said.
The New York State Nurses Association unveiled statistics showing that nearly one-third of nurses contemplate leaving their jobs because of the working conditions.
"There'll always be nurses," said Melva Osakwe of Castleton Corners, another nurse who made the trip north. "But we won't have the best quality if we don't have enough nurses."
Mandatory overtime is used "very sparingly," and only when there are "no other options available," said Ray Pohlod, a spokesman for Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, Staten Island Region.
If a nurse calls in sick and no replacements are available, mandatory overtime may be necessary as a last-ditch option, he said, adding that under a new contract negotiated between the hospital and the nurses' union (NYSNA), which was ratified earlier this month, nurses have the right to refuse mandated overtime.
(At Staten Island University Hospital North, the new contract between that hospital and the nurses union - also NYSNA - bans the use of any mandatory overtime entirely. The ban may be lifted only in situations of declared emergencies and extreme weather conditions).
St Vincent's Hospital officials "do not feel mandatory overtime is conducive to good patient care," Pohlod said, adding that the contract ensures safe staffing levels. He endorsed the whistleblower law.
That legislation, which has passed both houses and is expected be signed into law by Gov. George E. Pataki, protects health care workers who report it when they think a violation has occurred that could potentially hurt a patient. Under previous law, only workers who reported violations that actually harmed patients were protected from being fired or punished by their employers.
Should employers violate the whistleblower law, they can be fined by judges. Proceeds of the fines would go to a new fund directed toward improving patient care, officials said.
Legislation to ensure safe staffing levels and ban mandatory overtime, meanwhile, is circulating in both the Republican-run state Senate and Democrat-controlled Assembly......."
The Staten Island Advance
Sounds like nurses should start carrying pocket recorders around with them to capture on tape some of the rotten stuff they are threatened with by their Nurse Managers. What a riot! There is nothing in this world that is worth more to me than my children's safety, so if I were told to choose between staying over at work, or lose my job...goodbye job! I'm going home to care for my children because they don't have a choice, but we as their mothers do.
The above article is one of the results of RN Lobby Day our state association/union held at our state capitol yesterday. It was a very productive day for nurses. About 300 RNs participated. We had a seminar with our lobbyist bringing us up to date on our association legislative agenda, where our bills stood, refreshers on what we want supported or opposed and why, how to educate the legislators on them. We were given a lot of written material in packets to present to the legislators so they can understand the issues (especially in dollars & "sense") and then we met with them in their offices one-on-one to go over it all.
Later in the day, they joined us for a luncheon where they each sat at their own consituents tables (co-ordinated by county and town) for lunch & informal discussions with nurses from their own towns. The House & Senate leaders addresssed the group with speeches promising their support. In those speeches, they also let us know what parts of the bills they had problems with so we can respond to their concerns effectively.
We had a lot of attention from the legislators and media. It was 3 hrs driving there, stopped for a speeding a ticket on the NYS thruway, - 5 hrs working on nursings agenda with the legislators - plus the news conference and interviews with reporters, then 3 1/2 hrs driving home (not risking another ticket). All in all a very productive and fun day.
I took my 16 yr old daughter with me to show her theres more to what a nurse (and Mom) does than what she thinks, and to show her a little of what politics is about. She's got to start thinking about college majors soon. We toured the Capitol Building and watched the House in session.
Today is the 6th month anniversary of the attack on America.
There is a permanent display of 1,000 NY military flags in our state capitol building - flags from the Revolution to the present. She found one from a NY Regiment in the Civil War - The banner on the flag was embroidered:
"The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance".
Anyway, back to nursing, Heres more on what our message was to the state:
Nurses Link Working Conditions To Exodus of RNs From Patient Care
Albany, NY - March 11, 2002 - Thousands of registered nurses are no longer working in patient care settings because of intolerable working conditions. That was the message delivered today by nurses attending the annual legislative workshop sponsored by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA).
At a noontime news conference, NYSNA President Robert Piemonte warned that workplace conditions must be improved to reverse a disturbing trend - registered nurses leaving patient care for jobs that provide predictable working hours, less stress, and fewer physical risks.
"Nurses are leaving patient care because they're burned out, fed up, and just plain tired," he said. "They're tired of trying to deliver patient care without enough staff. They're tired of not knowing whether they're going to be mandated to work overtime. They're tired of running the risk of back injuries, exposure to infection, and even physical attacks."
Piemonte and nurses at the news conference urged the State Legislature to enact legislation that would prohibit employers from forcing nurses to work overtime, except in the case of a declared emergency. Nurses who work excessive hours are more likely to make medical mistakes, are prone to injury, and experience high levels of job stress.
"Nurses face a Catch-22 situation. According to their professional standards, they should not work if they are too tired to practice safely. But if they refuse to work overtime, under state law they can be charged with patient abandonment," Piemonte said.
Mandatory overtime is one reason a growing number of nurses are leaving patient care.
A national survey of nurses conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that the number of RNs employed in nursing in the U.S. increased by only 4 percent between 1996 and 2000. During the same period, the number of licensed RNs not employed in nursing increased by more than 11 percent.
In New York State, the survey estimated that the percentage of RNs not employed in nursing increased from 15.2 percent in 1996 to 19.0 percent in 2000, higher than the national rate of 18.3 percent.
Piemonte said the expected passage of a state healthcare whistleblower protection bill is an important foundation for NYSNA's legislative proposals to improve working conditions for nurses. "Legislation to set staffing levels or ban mandatory overtime can work only if nurses feel that the law protects them when they report violations," he said. "Nurses must be empowered to exercise their professional judgment and speak up on behalf of patients."
Some of NYSNA's solutions to the nursing care crisis also include these measures:
Ensuring Safe Staffing: Legislation that would require the state to establish and enforce guidelines for safe staffing in all healthcare settings.
Ban Mandatory Overtime: except in declared emergencies. Zero tolerance of forced overtime for nurses.
Disclosure of Quality Indicators: Legislation that would require healthcare facilities to disclose information related to the quality of nursing care, such as nurse-to-patient ratios, staffing levels, and patient outcomes.
Violence Prevention: Incidents of violence against nurses have been on the rise in hospitals, psychiatric facilities, and other settings. This legislation would require employers with 50 or more employees to develop and implement plans to protect employees against violence.
NYSNA is the professional association for registered nurses in New York with more than 33,000 members statewide. A multipurpose organization, it fosters high standards of nursing education and practice, working to advance the profession through legislative activity and collective bargaining.>>>
I would highly recommend that any RN who can, contact your state association and participate in their next State Capitol RN Lobby Day. You dont have to be a member, will have a great time, learn so much, and will help to improve the situation for nurses in your state.
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