During the infamous pay raise debacle two years ago, we sometimes heard that we needed to pay legislators more money to get quality people and because of the demands of the job. One word that came to my mind was nurses . If there is any group of people I want to be well qualified, well paid and happy with their jobs it is not legislators, it is nurses. Like doctors they work long hours, often mandatory overtime, with long term health consequences like back injuries from lifting or moving heavy patients, and with greater expectations for people skills. We are accustomed to ego in doctors. Let a nurse show some and there might be a problem.
Today’s Wall Street Journal had an article on nursing, “Slowdown’s side effect: more nurses” by Conor Dougherty. It says “For the past few decades, nursing has been a kind of reverse economic indicator.” When times are bad more part-time nurses go full-time and those who left the profession come back; enrollment in nursing programs goes up. In good times nurses leave or reduce their hours. Nationally, in early 2001 13% of all nursing jobs were unfilled. At the end of 2006, 8.1% of jobs were unfilled. So there is still a notable shortages of nurses, which is why they are often forced into mandatory overtime.
(For those interested in more information on nursing as a career in Pennsylvania, see the article on registered nurses in the Pennsylvania Occupational Outlook Handbook).
In June of 2007 the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed HB 834 which would ban mandatory overtime for health care workers. It is currently in the senate. See www.protectpatientcare.org for more details.
Rep. Bryan Lentz (D-161) has sent out a letter noting that May 6-12 is National Nurses Week and urging the passage of HB 834. It reads in part:
On May 6, 2008, the American Nurses Association and my office are sponsoring National Nurses Week, which is held every year during May 6-12. The purpose of National Nurses Week is to raise public awareness of the value of nursing and to help educate the public about the vital roles registered nurses play in meeting the health care needs of the American people. In addition to acknowledging the good work of this segment of the medical community, I’m taking this opportunity to draw attention to a crisis that affects these dedicated professionals and, potentially, puts all patients in harm’s way.
When the American Nurses Association surveyed 4,800 nurses, almost 3,400 of those surveyed work mandatory or unplanned overtime each month – some as many as three or four times per month.
More than 2,400 nurses work up to 16 hours of overtime, and only 960 of those nurses surveyed worked no overtime. Many said they work between 40 and 60 hours a week, with the average nurse in the survey working as much as 10 hours beyond the usual 40-hour work week. Nearly 500 nurses surveyed said they worked 61 to 80 hours a week, almost every week.
It is no secret that when employers demand that employees work to the point of exhaustion, mistakes will inevitably be made. However, in this instance, a mistake can cause injury and, even, lives.
This week, as your state representative, I voted in favor of House Resolution 575 to oppose mandatory overtime. Now, I urge you to join me in standing up for our nurses by contacting your senator and demanding he/she take action on House Bill 834. If passed, this bill will help ensure that the safety and wellbeing of medical professionals and those they care for come first.