Image taken in 2019
Nurses’ organizations in unprecedented collaboration to pass safe staffing legislation
Harrisburg, PA – February 23, 2021 – Nurses have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, risking their lives to provide the safest and best care possible, even with insufficient staffing in unsafe conditions. Now nurses are uniting to pass the Patient Safety Act, which would require safe staffing in hospitals across the state. The house and senate bills (HB 106 / SB 240) were introduced to the Pennsylvania state legislature Friday and Tuesday by Reps. Tom Mehaffie and K.C. Tomlinson and Sen. Maria Collett.
For the first time ever, major nursing unions and advocacy groups are uniting around a single piece of legislation they all agree would significantly improve hospital care across the state. The Pennsylvania State Nurses Association (PSNA) is joining forces with Nurses of PA (NOPA), Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), and Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania (SEIU-HCPA) to push for this essential legislation that would protect patients and frontline workers.
“For the past year, frontline healthcare workers like myself have risked exposure to the coronavirus daily, and this poses obvious risks to our physical health,” said PASNAP President Maureen May. “But the dramatic influx of very sick patients who require constant, demanding care has also exacerbated the staffing crisis and ravaged our mental and emotional health.”
“This is something the vaccine cannot fix,” May added.
“The pandemic has only put a spotlight on a long overdue problem in our healthcare system,” said Tarik Khan, President of PSNA. “We cannot afford to wait any longer. We are here together to present a solution – nurses and patients need the Patient Safety Act now.”
“Legislators need to understand that people’s lives depend on the Patient Safety Act,” said nurse and NOPA member Michelle Boyle. Patient Safety Act primary sponsors Sen. Maria Collett and Reps. Tom Mehaffie and K.C. Tomlinson all spoke in support of the bill alongside nurses and advocates Tuesday morning.
Sen. Collett, who has worked as a bedside nurse, said: “Just like many of the nurses supporting this bill, I know just how devastating insufficient staffing can be. Patient safety and quality care is directly related to nurses having the support they need, and getting proper time and attention for each patient.” Said Mehaffie: “We want to ensure nurses are staffed correctly so patients are safe and we can retain nurses without losing them to fatigue and stress.”
Research has long indicated that safe staffing in hospitals saves lives. Hospitals with better nursing environments and above-average staffing levels are associated with fewer patients losing their lives, and better overall care. “We know safety standards work,” said Myra Taylor, a nurse and SEIU member who is one of few nurses with safe staffing standards at her hospital, which were won in their union contract. “Having patient safety standards protects our patients because how many patients we care for directly impacts how much care we are actually able to give to each patient. The problem is most hospitals don’t have these standards, and all nurses need them.”
“Hospitals can afford safe staffing; patients can’t,” May said.
Unsafe staffing is also driving Pennsylvania toward a dangerous nursing shortage. COVID-19 has made under-staffing life and death for nurses, but even prior to the pandemic, short staffing was the single biggest driver of nurse burnout and turnover. In the PA Department of Health’s most recent licensure survey, the highest factor of “job dissatisfaction” was staffing, and the most common reason young nurses reported for planning to leave the profession was work stress.
“The Patient Safety Act is a way for hospitals to make an investment in patient care,” said Tomlinson. “This is not complicated, it is basic decency and common sense.”
“This is a time for us to listen to nurses, have their backs, and follow their lead,” said Collett. “Nurses are standing united for the Patient Safety Act, and legislators need to act before unsafe staffing costs more lives.”