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Unions Back Bill to Prevent Nurse Overload

February 11, 2009

Harrisburg, PA - When you're in the hospital and hit that call button by the bed, you want to know that a nurse will respond. A bill supported by Pennsylvania's largest union of nurses and other health care workers calls for setting strict limits on how many patients a nurse could have to care for at one time. The union, SEIU Healthcare, says low staffing levels for nurses are a key factor in errors that cause 98,000 hospital deaths a year in the U.S.

Deb Bonn, SEIU Nurse Alliance of Pennsylvania director, says spreading nurses too thin leads to mistakes.

"Not enough nurses at the bedside increases patient morbidity, it increases the chances of medical errors, it increases the chances of bad outcomes."

Those who oppose the Pennsylvania measure say it would drive up hospital and insurance costs.

Bonn says more nursing care can actually drive costs down in some cases.

"Better ratios also decrease hospital lengths of stay, which is an economic issue."

Bonn says there's a great need for regulation to ensure a standard level of care, particularly when it comes to intensive care.

"I have heard what basically are nightmare stories of an ICU where one nurse is required to take care of three patients. Patients in ICU are sick; they are there because they are very sick."

An added benefit of the proposed legislation could be bringing more nurses back to the bedside. In California, similar legislation passed 10 years ago. Since then, nursing-job vacancy rates there have plummeted and the number of nurses with active licenses has risen by 10,000 a year.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - PA