Scores of elected officials attended a legislative briefing on safe staffing in Albany on February 9 to hear experts, patients, and caregivers explain how nurse-to-patient staffing ratios save lives. The briefing was hosted by the newly-formed Campaign for Patient Safety, launched by a coalition dedicated to the passage of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act (S.782/A.8580-A). Union nurses represented by NYSNA, Communications Workers of America and the Public Employees Federation along with labor allies and patient and community advocacy organizations form the coalition. The legislative briefing, moderated by New York State Assembly Members Richard Gottfried and Aileen Gunther, was the campaign’s first major event.
Nearly 100 New York State Senators, Assembly Members, and their staff packed the room to hear a panel discussion, pose questions, and learn about safe staffing from experts. The legislative briefing was followed by a press conference to announce the formation of the Campaign for Patient Safety, which received news coverage from the Associated Press, Politico, and several TV news outlets.
Assemblywoman Gunther, who represents communities in Orange County and is also an RN, is spearheading the effort inside the legislature, where there is bipartisan support with 86 Assembly sponsors and 26 Senate sponsors.
“It is a proven fact that patient outcomes are better when there are enough nurses at the bedside of their patients at hospitals across New York,” said Assemblywoman Gunther. “I am proud to be the sponsor of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act because safe nurse-to-patient ratios save lives and New Yorkers deserve the best care possible.”
Strong public support
Marion Enright, RN and LBU President at Nathan Littauer Hospital, where nurses struck in early January over issues that included staffing, addressed legislators at the briefing, “We’re running this campaign because there is a staffing crisis in New York’s hospitals. There’s a shortage of nurses that must be addressed if we want to ensure that patients are well taken care of and have good outcomes.”
A November 2015 poll by the Mellman Group found a staggering 85% of New Yorkers support setting a maximum number of patients a nurse can care for at one time, and 67% of those polled said there are not enough nurses in New York hospitals. With strong public support for safer staffing, it’s time to go beyond debate and make it the law.
“There is evidence that inadequate staffing disproportionally affects communities of color. When life and death decisions are left to executives without oversight, our most vulnerable populations will suffer,” said Becca Telzak, Director of Health Programs at the community organization, Make the Road New York. Municipalities across the state have been passing resolutions calling on legislators to pass the bill. Erie, Schenectady and Ulster Counties have passed resolutions, as have the City of Buffalo and numerous towns.
Facts are clear
The hospital industry’s arguments that the regulations are unnecessary and costly are the same as those that were put forth by their counterparts in California prior to its passage of minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in 2004 — arguments that have been disproven by experience, said DeAnn McEwen, RN, former president, California Nurses Association, who attended the legislative briefing. A 2010 study led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania compared data from hospitals in California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey and found that lower staffing ratios were associated with fewer patient deaths.
NYSNA Treasurer Pat Kane, RN, said, “It is essential to pass the safe staffing bill for patients, nurses, and families across New York. Just look at the facts: patients heal faster, go home sooner, and are less likely to be readmitted — all while saving hospitals money. It’s just common sense, and that’s why we are working so hard to get the bill approved.”