Nurses Call for Legislation to Ease Nationwide Shortage
Rallying on the steps of the Capitol, scores of nurses from the Service Employees International Union yesterday called on Congress to address the nation's nursing shortage by enacting legislation encouraging nurse recruitment and banning mandatory overtime. The nurses were joined by several Democratic lawmakers, who pledged to support efforts to remedy a situation that nurses say has reached critical proportions and is expected to grow even worse as the nursing population ages and Baby Boomers retire. "Chronic understaffing and mandatory overtime are threatening quality care for patients and driving talented, experienced nurses out of our profession," Diane Sosne, president of SEIU Local 1199NW in Seattle, said. Standing above hundreds of white nurses' shoes symbolizing the shortage, the nurses said that increased duties often overwhelm them and increase the likelihood of medical errors. In conjunction with National Nurses Week, the SEIU released a survey of nurses showing that 54% say that more than half the medical errors they report are directly caused by inadequate staffing. Martha Baker, president of SEIU Local 1991 in Miami, said, "We believe our united voice is critical, that unless we stand together and inspire the people of this country to join us, that this crisis of care ... that is upon us -- euphemistically termed the 'nursing shortage' -- will cause people to die needlessly."
Today, several lawmakers will speak at a press conference in support of the Nurse Reinvestment Act (S 706), a bipartisan bill intended to promote nurse recruitment and training. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and in the Senate by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) -- both of whom spoke at yesterday's rally -- the measure would establish a $50 million per year National Nurse Service Corps that would provide scholarships to potential nurses in exchange for a commitment to work in a public or not-for-profit hospital deemed to have a critical shortage of nurses. The bill would also establish outreach programs beginning in primary schools and loans and grants for nursing students through the completion of their doctoral studies. In addition, the measure would raise Medicaid reimbursements for nurse training. "This bill will draw more people into the profession and help get them the training they need," said Capps, one of the three registered nurses in the House.
Also speaking at the rally, Sens. Kerry and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said they were working on legislation to ban mandatory overtime for nurses. The measure, to be introduced in about a month, would prohibit health care facilities from forcing nurses to work overtime beyond a certain number of hours, except in emergency cases. It also would provide protection for whistle-blowers who report overtime violations and would create financial assistance programs for facilities who face difficulties meeting staffing requirement. Pointing to the rows of footwear below him, Kennedy said, "I think everyone that is even thinking of opposing our legislation to eliminate mandatory overtime for nurses ought to walk in these shoes" (John Kastellec, California Healthline, 5/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.