Expert Opinion: The need for safe staffing levels in hospitals
Your spouse wakes up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain and shortness of breath. You rush to the emergency room of the nearest hospital. Once there, you may wait several hours to be seen by a nurse, and even longer in a corridor to talk to a doctor.
This is the state of health care in America today. Even as we take one step forward, we seem to take two steps back. Although the Affordable Care Act has extended health coverage to millions more Americans, understaffing and high health care costs continue to threaten patients.
As nurses, it is our duty to advocate for patients. The New York State Nurses Association, the largest nurses union in the state, extends that advocacy from the bedside to the community – wherever we can make a difference.
The top priority of nurses is safe patient care. One of the most important factors for improving health care in America is ensuring that there are enough nurses at the bedside in hospitals, outpatient clinics and surgical centers and to the homebound. Numerous studies have shown that having an adequate number of nurses on duty significantly improves health outcomes for patients – literally saves lives.
This year, we negotiated groundbreaking contract agreements with more than 20 hospitals across the state.
Our recent contracts have added more nurses into hospital units, new enforcement mechanisms for existing staffing ratios and grids. Nurses fought very hard for these improvements, which we know will allow our patients to live healthier and longer lives. We, also, have created over 1,000 new health care jobs for new nursing graduates.
Although we are proud of our accomplishments, there is still much work to be done. We know patient care will improve at the hospitals where we represent RNs, but there are many more facilities throughout the state that will not benefit. When someone becomes ill, they often don’t have the luxury of time or resources to seek out a hospital with a safe patient-to-nurse ratio. They often go to their nearest health care facility looking for help.
That’s why safe staffing should be the law of the land. All New Yorkers deserve to know that a nurse will be there when they have an emergency, or when they call out in the middle of the night, or when they need an answer about medication.
When the state Legislature reconvenes, NYSNA nurses will be advocating that lawmakers pass the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, which would guarantee enough nurses for all patients, wherever they are in New York.
Jill Furillo is executive director of the New York State Nurses Association.