Saturday, June 2, 2007

Mandatory overtime bill gains momentum

New York's nurses provide their patients with healthy doses of hope. Now, it appears the state Legislature may be ready to give some hope to New York's nurses.

A bill that would curtail the dangerous practice of mandatory overtime has emerged from a Senate committee and is headed for a floor vote for the first time in the long history of the bill. The state's nurses hope that the Assembly will quickly follow suit.

At a late-May lobby day and rally that brought together hundreds of nurses from NYSUT and other unions, nurses shared stories with legislators about the dangers of mandatory overtime, unsafe staffing ratios and allowing under-trained personnel to use the title "nurse."

"People go to a hospital and expect to be safe," said Renee Setteducato, a nurse at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn and a chapter leader for the United Federation of Teachers. "Those expectations are being let down."

Many hospitals are allowed to force nurses to work extra hours, meaning nurses often are exhausted and not alert at the end of marathon shifts.

"Would you want to be a patient for a nurse on the 16th hour of her shift, trying to put in an IV?" Michelle Ricart, a UFT nurse, asked a staff member for Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, who is sponsoring key legislation on staffing ratios and the use of the title "nurse."

Media coverage

Several legislators attended an afternoon rally where they voiced their support for ending mandatory overtime. Anne Goldman of New York City, who chairs NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council, was master of ceremonies for the rally, which drew much coverage from the Capital District media.

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Sullivan, a former nurse and sponsor of the bill to end mandatory overtime, led hundreds of nurses in a chant of "Hey, hey, ho, ho, mandatory overtime's got to go."

When NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin told the crowd that the bill simply needed a nudge to pass in both houses and become signed by Gov. Spitzer, Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith stepped forward moments later and declared, "Here is the nudge."

At the rally, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno told nurses they deserve conditions that are as safe for nurses as they are for patients. The 78-year-old Bruno drew laughter when he quipped, "The older I get, the more I love you and appreciate every one of you."

Mandatory OT was far from the only item on the nurses' agenda. NYSUT nurses also advocated for a bill that would set safe staff-to-patient ratios and require hospitals to report those ratios.

"By the eighth week, many new nurses literally run away crying," Goldman told a member of Spitzer's staff, painting a picture of the heavy caseloads caused by understaffing.

"We need to do more for nursing recruiting and retention," said Sen. John Flanagan, R-Smithtown, pointing out that overworked nurses were more likely to leave the profession, exacerbating the state's nursing shortage.

NYSUT nurses also pushed for a bill that would only allow Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses to use the title "nurse." Under state law, anyone can use the title "nurse," and some unlicensed personnel have been given the title "nurse technician," which could lead patients to believe those employees have a level of training that they do not.

NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue was impressed by the record turnout of NYSUT nurses at the lobbying day.

"The more communication NYSUT can facilitate between nurses and the Legislature, the better care New York's patients will receive," she said. "Our nurses don't come to Albany to talk about hospital profitability, but about hospital care."

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