GUEST POST: For Nurses Week, skip the pizza – give me safe staffing

This guest post is by Julia Morrissey, RN, a nurse in Ann Arbor and a member of the Michigan Nurses Association. It is cross-posted with permission from the Progress Michigan blog in honor of National Nurses Week.


It’s not that I don’t appreciate the pizza, pens, and little pink teddy bears with signs like, “Nurses are Heroes!” that employers give me and other RNs this time of year.

My fellow nurses and I want something with a little more substance, though. We want the resources to do our jobs, and the changes to truly improve life for our patients.

That can’t be accomplished during Nurses Week once a year.

Here’s what nurses really need:

Safe staffing

Many hospitals intentionally overload nurses, forcing them to handle more patients than they medically should. When that happens, those patients are at higher risk of infection, complications, falls and even death. There is a clear link between nurse staffing levels and your safety in the hospital.

Yet there is NO LAW that requires hospitals to have enough nurses working at any given time. And believe me, employers take advantage of that. Unlike most nurses in Michigan, I am part of a strong union, so I have a strong contract that provides a framework for safe staffing.

Most Michigan nurses, though, are simply juggling too many patients on a daily basis. Why? Because their employer is trying to cut short-term costs at the expense of patients’ lives.

Even collective bargaining agreements are no guarantee, especially the way that workers’ rights have been systematically attacked here in Michigan. The only solution is a safe staffing law.

A focus on our patients, not profits

Increasingly, health care is driven by corporate profits at the expense of our health. While the Affordable Care Act made some important progress, it didn’t solve the primary problem: the demands of the greedy hospital, insurance and pharmaceutical industries are driving health care in America. The average pay for a Fortune 500 health insurer CEO rose by $2.3 million in just the last year alone.

Meanwhile, I have patients whose cancer would have been detected earlier if they could have afforded screenings; patients who can’t afford their medication. We are a wealthy nation – don’t believe the lie that there is not enough money to go around.

We have to keep fighting to fix the economic inequality that is hurting our country and enact single-payer health care.

A safe workplace

Every RN understands that nursing is a physically and emotionally demanding profession. What we shouldn’t have to accept is that being assaulted is “just part of the job.” More than 50 percent of ER nurses have been assaulted, and the problem is growing.

Patients, family members or other visitors who hit, kick, punch or otherwise assault nurses usually get off with a slap on the wrist. Nurses have been stabbed, seriously injured and even killed.

To help solve this, Michigan should, like many other states, make it a felony to assault a nurse – just as it is for a police officer, firefighter and several other categories of public service professionals.

Employers also must provide adequate security. But change won’t happen until people understand that assaulting a nurse is a serious crime. Seems like an easy thing to agree on, but it’s a tough sell to many legislators.

None of this is nearly as easy as handing a nurse a free pen and walking away.

So sure, pass the pizza. But while we’re at it, let’s pass meaningful legislation that allows nurses to do our jobs and keep patients healthy.

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  • judyms9

    To further support Ms. Morrissey’s concerns regarding patient safety and staffing levels, five Downriver hospitals were evaluated last week for patient safety by Leapfrog Group, a non-profit independent evaluation group. Only one hospital got a B, and the other four received C’s. Most of the areas of weak patient care performance, such as falls, breathing distress, bedsores, infections, etc.,are directly related to staffing levels. Ironically, all of these hospitals have spent vast amounts on expanding and decorating their physical plants and providing resortlike amenities. The window dressing does not make up for inadequate and overworked staff.
    Why do hospitals have to spend money on advertising, which just adds to the increasing cost of healthcare?

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