Nurses press Ward on staffing ratio

BELLWOOD — Local nurses are calling for state-mandated staffing ratios, pushing for the passage of legislation that would set the number of patients nurses can attend to.

Some nurses from UPMC Altoona confronted state Rep. Judy Ward, R-Hollidays­burg, who is a registered nurse, during an informal public meeting Wednesday at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library, urging her to help pass the nurse-to-patient ratio law.

“Overwhelming registered nurses across the state feel that safe staffing is our biggest issue right now, and we want to see that this ratio bill becomes a law,” said Kim Heverly, a registered nurse in the Med Surge Telemetry Department. “We were really glad to see you, yourself a registered nurse, in the Legislature to help stand up for nurses and patients across the state. But in the past three years, we haven’t seen much movement on your side for this safe staffing ratio.”

She added, “Part of the issue, we feelm, is that maybe you’ve abandoned us — nurses at the bedside — in order to serve what corporations want, which are staffing committees.”

Karen Bubier, another UPMC nurse attending the event, said: “Many times we are put with such a load of work. As the day increases, the patient load comes up. The nurses go down. The aides we have go down. So the risk grows as the day goes on.”

Senate Bill 214, introduced by Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware, is modeled on similar legislation in California. It has been sitting with the Senate Health and Human Services Committee since Jan. 26, 2017.

According to the Pennsyl­vania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, setting nurse-to-patient ratios saves lives, reduces errors, reduces nurse fatigue and burnout and decreases complications.

Ward assured audience members that she has not abandoned nurses. “There’s not been movement with the health committee, and there’s bottlenecks all the time for different reasons. I am going to continue to push for some sort of staffing.”

Instead of enforcing mandated ratios, Ward mentioned a collaborative staffing approach, where staff and administrative representatives decide the staffing unit for each day based on various factors. She said she supports the proposed legislation calling for this approach.

“I’m not a big fan of the ratios,” Ward said. “Just because of a mandate, sometimes that puts a hospital in a bad place … at the end of the day. We have to kind of work together on it. So I think if it’s collaborative and worked on together and there’s respect for nurses in their positions and there’s respect for administration, I think there’s a place for middle ground there. But to mandate them is probably not the way we want to go. So I’m hopeful we can get something. But it’s not easy.”

Of the 6,000 people who have signed a petition supporting SB 214, 190 of them are in the 30th Senate District, according to Mick Power, organizer of Nurses of Pennsylvania.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of registered nurses from 2016-26 will grow 15 percent.

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