Leaders of the legislature’s public health committee said Monday they are committed to addressing the health care worker shortage by exploring mandatory nurse staffing ratios, closing loopholes that allow hospitals to mandate overtime and examining hiring and retention strategies to boost staff numbers.
“This is a crisis. This is moving fast toward disaster,” said Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, the committee’s co-chair. “This catastrophe is preventable. That’s the reality – we must intervene at this time.
“If you don’t have enough staff, more people die. If you don’t have enough staff, you increase the risk of medical error.”
Staff members of the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut, which represents about 7,500 health care workers, implored lawmakers on Monday to address the staffing shortage, which they say poses a risk to both staff and patients.
In a national study, AFT officials pointed to a February 2022 poll that found 23 percent of healthcare workers, or nearly a quarter, “are likely to leave healthcare soon”.
“Staffing is poor. I think our vacancy rate has been hovering around 30% to 35% hospital-wide. We’ve been using a lot of [traveling nurses]Sherri Dayton, a registered nurse at Plainfield Urgent Care, a stand-alone emergency department at Bucks Hospital, told CT Mirror.
On any given day, she said, her facility has a nurse-to-patient ratio of one nurse for every six patients. Sometimes there is one nurse for every eight patients. A 4-1 ratio is safe and ideal in the emergency room, Dayton said.
Labor officials are asking lawmakers to pass a bill mandating staffing ratios, or staffing levels. California mandates staffing ratios, and Dayton said she hopes Connecticut lawmakers will look to the state when crafting local laws.
Officials at the Connecticut Hospital Association object to staffing ratios.
“There is much work to be done to expand and support Connecticut’s nursing workforce,” said Hospital Association CEO Jennifer Jackson. “Patients need a strong healthcare workforce, and hospitals and healthcare systems are working with their state, education, and healthcare staff and partners to educate, train, and retain more nurses and other medical staff in Connecticut. health professionals.”
“Focus on government-mandated nurse staffing ratios will delay the work we need to get done,” she said. “In fact, staffing ratios can exacerbate the problem, causing delays in care and increasing costs, and corporate nurse staffing agencies could be the beneficiaries.”
Anwar did not specify what ratio he and other lawmakers might propose.
Mandatory overtime has also forced some nurses out of the profession. Connecticut law prohibits mandatory overtime for hospital nurses except in certain circumstances, such as severe weather conditions, widespread illness or disaster, a public health emergency, if the nurse is participating in a surgical procedure, or if the nurse is working in an intensive care unit and Not being taken over by the next shift of workers.
Labor officials say some union contracts include mandatory overtime pay — double pay for those hours — and hospital administrators believe the contract language allows them to enforce overtime despite state law.
“They’re using this as a loophole in the law,” said John Brady, a retired RN and vice president of the AFT in Connecticut.
Nurses at the Dayton facility typically work 12-hour shifts, but some nurses were also asked to work an extra four hours, she said.
Labor officials have called on the General Assembly to address mandatory overtime by closing loopholes created by some collective bargaining agreements. A bill to expand limits on hospitals’ ability to mandate overtime was defeated last year by a public health committee but ultimately failed to pass the House or Senate.
They also asked lawmakers to enact policies that boost recruitment and retention, such as student loan forgiveness.
“I’m here today to say ‘help us,'” AFT President Randi Weingarten told lawmakers on Monday. “If you help us, we’ll be able to help patients more. People in healthcare want to make a difference in other people’s lives. Help us do that. Don’t let us deal with dangerous situations that just keep getting worse.”