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Nurse staffing shortages remain a concern

New York Teacher
Anne Goldman

Anne Goldman
UFT Vice President for Non-DOE Members
Federation of Nurses/UFT

Throughout the pandemic, Federation of Nurses/UFT members have worked on the front lines with dignity, courage and a commitment to achieve positive health outcomes for all. Despite the incredible challenges, our nurses responded to patient care needs. We remained steadfast, and together we provided each patient with the best care possible. As health care leaders, we were humbled and thankful for the gratitude and recognition we received from so many. Today, however, as hospitalizations rise, we again find ourselves in a battle for adequate staffing.

The nursing workforce — battered, bruised and exhausted by the pandemic — is very concerned about staffing, which directly affects our ability to provide efficient and effective patient care.

During the pandemic, we fast-tracked all available nursing students and health care workers and placed them at bedside. They were necessary for the care of critically ill patients, who needed to be lifted, turned, suctioned and monitored as best practices were developed for COVID-19. The mortality rate also took a toll on nurses as we struggled to find the best treatments. These new members of our workforce did not have the opportunity to receive orientation and mentoring as prescribed in our contracts because there was no time.

Now, new nurses are concerned about staying in nursing. Many nurses have already resigned or retired early, and others have soured on the profession. When we ask why, both those leaving and those still working say staffing is neither safe nor adequate, and they express anger and frustration. After experiencing a pandemic, why must we still have to fight for adequate staffing?

Perhaps we have not shouted loud enough that appropriate staffing must be a priority, and ongoing educational support and mentoring is essential so nurses can feel competent delivering the care each patient deserves. Inadequate staffing often means an increase in infection, poor patient outcomes and even patient mortality. Our goal is to respond to patients in a culturally appropriate manner as we provide treatment, educate them about their health and prepare them to achieve their optimum level of health. There are no exceptions to staffing needs, and there are no do-overs.

Our union advocates for specific nurse-to-patient ratios. These staffing ratios are the foundation for safe patient care. Quality of care is determined by the nursing staff’s ability to follow the treatments necessary in a timely way with staff support as needed.

There have been many studies on staffing that demonstrate the need for appropriate nurse-to-patient ratios. They are supported by nursing accreditation organizations and medical and hospital organizations. Without appropriate staffing, mistakes are more likely to occur, and staff members become anxious and depressed. We will enforce these working conditions as we bargain for additional economic benefits. Nurses are patient advocates, and our union gives us voice.

Recruiting and retaining talented individuals is a critical part of our work. We must invest in staffing now. In New York, we have passed a law requiring staffing discussions in our hospitals. While we need our union to focus on this issue, as consumers of health care, we all need to demand excellence. The labor movement must lead the way to put patient care above profits. Remember, the price of understaffing in our hospitals can be harm and even death.