Understaffing exacts painful toll on staff, patients
PEF survey of nurses reveals growing staffing shortage
By MEL HYMAN
While shortages of nurses, as with other professions, come and go over the years, some are much more serious than others.
This time, the shortage of nurses is national, deep and systemic and rapidly reaching critical proportions, according to PEF nurse organizer Lenore Boris.
A new survey of PEF nurses seems to bear out findings by the Healthcare Association of New York that 82 percent of hospitals in the state currently have a shortage of RNs.
A recent Safe Staffing survey that PEF conducted among its members in nursing paints a grim picture. The union surveyed its nurses at the three SUNY hospitals, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Helen Hayes Hospital, and all of the major state psychiatric, mental-retardation and correctional facilities.
We need more nurses!
Seventy-five percent of the approximately 600 nurses who responded, regardless of agency, said their worksites need to hire more registered nurses.
Some of the more frequent comments included inadequate RN-to-patient ratio, constant floating, and we work short(staffed) on almost a daily basis.
Among the other conclusions:
Getting time off is a problem.
Understaffing threatens the quality of patient care.
Trying to complete assigned tasks in the face of chronic understaffing creates stressful working conditions.
Staffing shortages will likely continue unless state nurses receive higher salaries.
Many of the concerns raised in the PEF survey are the same issues Ive seen before, because they tend to be cyclical, Boris said.
But the current crisis may be more urgent than before. For one thing, the average age of our nurses is 46 or 47, Boris said. Because many of these nurses will soon be retiring, there will be increasing pressure on the health-care system at a time when demand for services is going to start escalating.
Baby boomers aging
The demand for health-care services will grow, because over the next few decades, increasing numbers of baby boomers will need medical attention, Boris said. And they will not be an easy group for the system to absorb, especially in light of a growing nurses shortage.
According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the nursing workforce will be 20 percent below requirements in just two more years. Thats mostly due to women choosing other professions, instead of nursing and teaching.
According to Brian Hyde, chair of the PEF Statewide Nurses Committee, the difficulty in attracting and retaining nurses is not based on pay alone, but is a combination of low salary and workplace issues.
I firmly believe there is a need for some kind of balance, Hyde said, and conditions at some state worksites are so intense that even excellent pay and benefits would not be enough to offset the stress from having to work overtime or being short-staffed.
Legislative action, PR, advocacy key tools PEF survey sparks plan to ease nurse shortage
By MEL HYMAN
Armed with results of the recent PEF nurses survey, a special committee of PEF nursing leaders has come up with a plan to address the staffing shortage.
The committee will use legislative action, public outreach and workplace advocacy as the primary tactics to improve staffing.
Quality Patient Care/Safe Staffing Its in the Public Interest is the campaigns theme.
Workplace advocacy may include drawing attention to the need for specialized training in certain work settings, such as state medical, psychiatric and correctional facilities.
In New Yorks prisons for example, an increasing number of inmates today are being given medication for their emotional problems. In one particular correctional facility, more than 400 of the 600 inmates are on psychotropic medications, according to Lenore Boris, PEFs nurse organizer.
Most of these medications are new or were developed within the last five years, Boris said. And most of our nurses have not received any training on how to administer these drugs.
Shepherding safe-staffing legislation through the state Legislature is also an important part of the unions plan.
The legislation envisioned by the committee would:
Limit mandatory overtime, either through a total ban on forced overtime, or a limit on the number of hours a nurse can be made to work each day;
Require a minimum of 10 hours off between scheduled work hours;
Protect nurses from charges that refusal of overtime constitutes abandonment of patients; and
Establish, with the advice of nurses, staffing ratios that put the primary priority on quality patient care.
Members of the special nurses committee that developed the plan are Region 1 Coordinator Joyce Degenhardt, Council Leader Dee Dodson, Executive Board Member Brian Hyde, Trustee Glendore Ulerie and PEF steward Jo Cecelia Moore.
Committee members will work closely with PEFs Statewide Nurses Committee to get the plan rolling.