State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Nurses push dueling fixes for understaffed hospitals

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | May 8, 2015 1:16 PM
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Nurses say inadequate staffing is a problem in Pennsylvania hospitals, and new law would protect patients from poor outcomes that can result from overworked healthcare providers.

At a press conference on the issue this week, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) said he understands nurses' call for a legislative remedy.

"I know how hard you work," said DiGirolamo, who said his daughter is a hospital nurse. "I see her when she comes back from her shift -- how tired she is."

Various nurses' groups do not agree on the best way to fix the problem. There are two dueling proposals before state lawmakers.

One would subject hospitals to fines if they don't heed the staffing recommendations of their own nurses.

"We think they should be able to have some type of input into how they're staffed moving forward," said Betsy Snook, head of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association. The organization's preferred proposal would require hospitals to set up internal committees to set advisory staffing levels. The state Department of Health could slap hospitals with a $1,000-per-day fine for disregarding the recommendations of the committees.

But Patty Eakin, the president of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), calls that a "loosey-goosey" approach.

"It has no teeth," said Eakin, "and it can only make recommendations of staffing plans and is subservient to hospital administration, which nowadays is too often dominated by the corporate mentality of profits before patients."

PASNAP, along with two other nurses' unions, prefers a proposal to create state-mandated nurse-to-patient ratios. The staff levels would be specific to the different kinds of health care units (e.g. intensive care, postpartum, surgical). Hospitals found to be flouting the ratios would be subject to civil penalties of as much as $25,000 for each violation.

Stress and fatigue have always been a fact of life at work, nurses say. What's changed in recent years, they say, is that less-acute cases don't necessarily go to hospitals. Instead, those patients might receive treatment in out-patient or urgent care facilities.

"Nobody goes to the hospital anymore for small items," said Snook. "Nurses are taking care of larger numbers of patients who are sicker than they've ever been."

Published in State House Sound Bites

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