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The struggle for adequate hospital staffing

New York Teacher

The Federation of Nurses/UFT protects quality of health care for each patient UFT members serve. This is a reflection of how our union puts patients before profits.

Our goal is to provide excellent care and help patients achieve their optimum level of functioning. To reach that goal, we are committed to achieving staffing levels in hospitals that provide for safe patient care consistent with regulatory and accredited agency standards.

The hospitals with UFT-represented nurses agree that adequate and balanced staffing is essential to provide appropriate patient care. Our union carefully negotiates staffing procedures with each hospital to fulfill our obligation to give each and every patient the opportunity to be cared for competently and correctly.

Why then do we find ourselves in a struggle each and every day to have staffing fulfilled at the contractual levels we have bargained? How is it possible that we continue to have many grievances on this issue and spend so much time debating issues that are the mutual responsibility of the union and management?

This struggle is motivated by power and the cost of staffing. Our union clearly articulates the necessary ratio of patients to nurses in our contracts. But managers do not always accept their responsibility to fulfill those negotiated ratios. Yet without the correct skill mix and ratio, patient outcomes decline. In fact, studies have found patient infections and complications increase when nurse to patient ratios are not correctly maintained.

Our role as nurses is to be the voice of the patient and to advocate on their behalf in an industry designed to make impressive economic gains. After all, billing is not reduced when the stated ratios are not met.

To use our voice as patient advocates, we have many tools, including our grievance procedure. When a nurse faces improper staffing, the first responsibility is to report it to the nurse manager. The goal is to get an appropriate response, such as a replacement nurse. If that cannot be immediately achieved, the nurse manager should assist with patient care and a grievance should be filed. A grievance provides evidence of the facts and is a clear communication about the infraction. A paper trail offers insight into failed staffing and a record of the employee’s corrective action.

We must insist staffing levels necessary for appropriate patient care are adhered to. Let’s unite and continue to put the spotlight on poor staffing practices.

The next time you watch a football game, please note that no team is playing without the required number of players. That certainly wouldn’t be fair. Shouldn’t patients have optimum opportunity for appropriate care from a full nursing team?

We have introduced legislation in Albany that addresses staffing ratios, and we must build support for the concept.

Successful union efforts have resulted in laws that address safe patient handling, mandatory overtime, safe needles, sepsis precautions and many other issues. Together we can and will make a difference in achieving the changes necessary for safe staffing.

Our union is an important defender of professional standards, best practices and individualized patient care. We have so much to achieve, and so many counting on us.

Thank you to our dedicated members who stand up to deficiencies in the patient-care arena.

It matters, and you make a difference.