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Tuesday, May 16, 2006
IF YOU'RE LIKE MANAY AMERICANS, you probably don't realize that May 6-12 is National Nurses Week. Most people don't have to consider what it's like to be a nurse in today's health care environment until they're in a hospital or have a loved one who needs care in a hospital. They may hear on the news that there's a nurse shortage, but that reality of it won't hit most people until they end up in the hospital. When patients and families see nurses working long hours, without enough staff, and receiving salaries that have'nt kept up with the demands, they realize the critical role registered nurses play in our health care system.

As registered nurses, we have chosen our profession because we want to make a difference in our patients' lives. From welcoming a new baby into the world to assessing how an elderly patient responds to medication after a procedure, nurses are thee for patients and their medical colleagues. The worst situation we face as nurses is one in which we have to struggle to provide the care our patients need because hospitals have made choices that too often place their own financial interests above the health of patients.

Numerous studies have shown the effecs of short staffing on patient care. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for each additional medical-surgical patient in a registered nurse's care, the risj of death increases by 7 percent. In hospitals with eight patients per nurse, patients have a 31 percent greater risk of dying that those in hospitals with four patients per nurse.

Hospitals' choices have made working conditions nearly impossible for nurses to provide the highest care, and many of us have gotten so frustrated we're leaving the bedside. Nearly 500,000 registered nurses have left for more rewarding careers. In Illinois alone, more than 83,000 registered nurses are licensed but nor employed for nursing.

At the same time nurses are leaving, we can also expect the need for more qualified nurses in hospitals to increase. Baby boomer nurses are turning in their scrubs in order to retire just as we need more of them to assist with an aging problems. And more senior citizens means the demand for nurses in physisicans offices and nursing homes will increase.

Typically, in a free-market economy, wages rise with demand. Surprisingly, though, research by the Institute for Women's Policy Research (using U.S. Department of Labor data) confirms that nurses' wages did'nt increas as the nursing shortage has worsened.

Rather than raising wages to meet their patients' staffing needs, hospitals use staffing practices that make the situation worse. Often they will attempt to meet the need by overworking nursing professionsla through excessive overtime. They also rely on contingent workers and one-time hiring bonuses. Most troubling of all, they simply don't staff the floors with enough nurses to provide topnotch care for all patients.

Believing that the public had a right to know about the nurse staffing crisis, the Nurse Alliance of Service Employees International Union worked witht he Illinois General Assembly to pass the Hospital Report Card Act in 2003. This law was the first of its kind to require hospitals to disclose important indicators of quality nursing care - including stafing leverls, nurse turnover and vacancy rates and cetain infection rates. Unfortunately, this law has yet to be fully implemented and these are proposals to dealy reporting by some hospitals.

As dedicated professionals, we refuse to let short staffing or any other burden prevent us from providing the absolute best care we know how to offer. This week rather than just recognizing the contributuins of nurses, the Nurse Alliance of SEIU is working hard to find solutions to the patient care crisis. We urge everyone who has been touched by the strength, commitment and compassion of a nurse to join us in urging at the national state and local levels that our hospitals place the priority back on patient care and target their resources to working with us to bring nurses back to the bedside. The states are too high for us to wait any longer.

(Source: CHISUNTIMES by: Karen Backus, a registered nurse, is director of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU in Illinois and chairs the nurse staffing subcommittee of the Department of Public Health's Facility, Report Card Technical Advisory Committee.)
posted by infraternam meam @ 10:12 PM  
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Name: infraternam meam
Home: Chicago, United States
About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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