New-York News

Nurse unions criticize Health Department’s safe staffing law enforcement

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Hundreds of nurses and health care workers are criticizing the state Health Department’s enforcement of New York’s safe staffing law, claiming that lagging investigations against understaffed hospitals have rendered the rule ineffective.

Unions have submitted thousands of complaints since the Health Department began enforcement of its hospital safe staffing law last year. The New York State Nurses Association has sponsored at least 11,000 complaints in the past six months. But those complaints have yielded little response nor enforcement, said NYSNA President Nancy Hagans, which has left nurses with little ability to hold hospitals accountable for poor working conditions.

“We are asking that the Department of Health do [its] job,” Hagans said.

Monica Pomeroy, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health, countered the union’s claims, stating that the agency has taken a “rigorous approach” to implementing safe staffing law. The agency has investigated 409 complaints related to the staffing law and issued 35 citations to hospitals that have violated the rule, she said.

Hagans said that she’d like to see more investigations from the agency, as well as more transparency into how it plans to ensure hospitals improve staffing levels after violating ratios.

Seven nurses’ unions held a rally in Albany on Monday to pressure the Health Department to ramp up its enforcement of a safe staffing law passed in 2021. State lawmakers including health committee chairs Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin joined the unions to urge the state to ensure hospitals comply with staffing law.

The law requires hospitals to establish committees made up of nurses, health care workers and hospital administrators to devise safe staffing plans across all hospital units. The committees were in charge of coming up with ratios for all units except critical care units, which were subject to a universal rule requiring that each nurse care for no more than two patients. The staffing committees were formed in January 2022 and submitted staffing plans to state health officials in July of that year.

The unions say that lagging enforcement has led to continually short-staffed hospital units, putting patient and nurse safety at risk. Hagans said she often hears that nurses in intensive care units manage four patients at once, despite the state law mandating they care for a maximum of two.

“Our members are walking away from the bedside,” Hagans said. “They cannot continue to work in poor conditions anymore.”

In response to continued staffing challenges, nurses have submitted thousands of staffing complaints to the Health Department in hopes of holding hospitals accountable. Three unions including NYSNA submitted 2,500 staffing complaints against Catholic Health in Buffalo in March. Last November the unions submitted 8,000 complaints against Kaleida Health in Buffalo, New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan in Greenwich Village and Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira.

The Federation of Nurses, part of the United Federation of Teachers, submitted 30 complaints against NYU Langone – Brooklyn last August, but has documented more than 2,000 violations against the facility.

Anne Goldman, a registered nurse and special representative for UFT’s nurse chapter, said that the enforcement of the staffing law is a “bureaucratic nightmare,” as current investigations have been slow and favor hospital interests.

But Dr. Erin Dupree, senior vice president and physician executive of quality and clinical initiatives at the Greater New York Hospital Association, said that hospitals are doing their best to comply with a relatively new and complicated law. While staffing plans are well thought-out and static, staffing is dynamic, she said – a fact that can result in deviations from agreed-upon plans. She also cited a workforce crisis that has made it difficult for hospitals to hire.

Hagans said that meeting staffing ratios will help hospitals improve their ability to recruit and retain nurses by improving working conditions. 

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Amanda D'Ambrosio , 2024-05-15 11:33:05

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