Mass: Nurses, legislators rally against forced overtime at hospitals

  1. Nurses, legislators rally against forced overtime at hospitals

    Copyright 2002 Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Inc.
    TELEGRAM & GAZETTE...02/21/2002


    - As the nursing shortage drags on and hospitals teeter on the edge of financial ruin, nurses are redoubling their call for limits to forced overtime.

    The issue has surfaced in Worcester in recent years with the settling of contracts at Worcester Medical Center and UMass Memorial Medical Center that severely restrict the mandatory overtime hospitals can require of nurses.

    Yesterday, nurses and other hospital workers from around the state rallied with sympathetic lawmakers at the Statehouse in support of federal and state legislation that would rein in the practice. They met in the historic building's Nurses Hall, which commemorates Civil War nurses.

    ''When you're doing 20 or 24 hours of overtime in a week when you've already worked 32 hours, that's a lot of work,'' said Dorothy Brandt, a secretary at HealthAlliance Burbank Campus in Fitchburg.

    Ms. Brandt, a steward with the Service Employees International Union local 285, which represents 2,000 nurses in the state, was among several dozen other union workers who gathered here to promote their cause.

    State Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, author of legislation to attract and keep nurses with incentives and low-interest loans, said forced overtime risks patients' health and is also unhealthy for nurses.

    ''It's very important that we help the job of nursing get better by eliminating forced overtime to ensure that quality and safety are maintained,'' said Mr. Moore, chairman of the Legislature's Health Care Committee. ''You can't function effectively when you're over-stressed.''

    Although medical technology has become a dominating force in health care, ''it still comes down to people who deliver the care to give that human touch,'' he said.

    Mr. Moore said, ''too many hospitals are on the verge of closing.'' He called on state government to spend more to fund Medicaid, the health care program for the poor.

    Another speaker, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Newton, is a co-sponsor of a federal bill to reduce hospitals' practice of forcing nurses to work extra-long shifts.

    With all the public alarm over terrorist-inspired anthrax scares, there should be equal concern about poorly staffed hospital wards, shuttered emergency rooms and ambulances diverted to other hospitals, Mr. Frank said.

    ''The average American hospital isn't ready for Friday night,'' he said.
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