BY SAM RAPPAPORT
Nurses and healthcare professionals from across New York State gathered in Albany on Tuesday to rally in support of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, a bill that would mandate a certain ratio of nurses to patients in New York hospitals and which currently rests in committee in both the Assembly and the Senate.
For years, the issue of safe staffing has been of primary concern for New York nurses, who say they often find themselves in dangerously understaffed working environments. A version of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act passed the Assembly last year, but never made it to a vote in the Senate.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), one of the bill’s co-sponsors in the state Assembly, said that the fate of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act rests with the Senate.
“It’s passed in our house, and it will pass again,” Weprin said. “It’s a question of whether it’s passed in the Senate.”
Weprin said that financial cuts to nursing homes and hospitals over the years created unsafe environments for many patients.
“You have a lot of cutbacks in hospitals, a lot of hospitals have been closed and nursing homes are overcrowded,” Weprin said. “It’s important for the care of patients that they have nurses at a safe ratio. It’s a public health concern.”
Many health institutions, however, are against the bill, according to Weprin.
“There are a lot of hospitals and nursing homes that are against it because of the cost of hiring additional nurses,” he said. “They’re in distress.
But when it comes to health and protecting patients, we can’t worry about the cost.”
If passed, the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act would establish nurse-to-patient ratios by unit. Nurses could not, by law, be assigned responsibility for more patients than the specific unit. Hospitals that violate the law would face civil penalties.
New York State Nurses Association Spokesman Carl Ginsburg said that while progress has been lagging on this particular issue, he feels that the groundswell of support for safe staffing in recent months might force the state legislature to act.
“I’ve been at this for eight years, it’s a persistent issue,” Ginsburg said. “But it’s really come to a head recently. Nurses are really fed up with this, and they’re crying out. They’ve gone to management, they’ve gone to Albany, they’ve protested and we still haven’t seen significant improvement.”
The Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act has a similar counterpart in California, the only state where such a bill has been passed. Ginsburg said that the California bill has been effective on many levels and hopes that the New York legislature will take note and follow suit.
“This is a fundamental issue for registered nurses,” he said. “We’re working really hard on this right now.”
Reach reporter Sam Rappaport via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 357-7400, ext. 123.