Lawmakers introduce bill focused on easing nurse shortages

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A new bill has been introduced aimed at ridding forced overtime requirements for nurses and thus helping to ease associated nurse shortages. The Safe Nursing and Patient Care Act comes from U.S. Representatives Pete Stark (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, and Steven LaTourette (R-OH). The bill would strictly limit the use of required overtime for nurses.

The bipartisan bill has been endorsed by the major organizations representing nurses including the American Nurses Association and AFL-CIO, among others.

"Mandatory overtime exhausts nurses mentally and physically, placing patients’ lives at risk and driving nurses out of the profession,” said Stark. "We limit the time that truck drivers and pilots can work to protect public safety. Safe nursing is in the public interest as well."

The Safe Nursing and Patient Care Act would place major limits on the use of mandatory overtime for nurses, only requiring it in situations in which an official state of emergency is declared by federal, state or local authorities. These limits would be included in Medicare’s provider agreements or but not apply to nursing homes.

The legislation would provide HHS with new tools to enforce these standards. It would also protect nurses from discrimination by employers who continue to force them into working hours beyond what they believe is safe for quality care.

"We ask so much of our nurses, and they do remarkable work under constant stress. We shouldn't force them to work overtime hours when they are mentally and physically exhausted," LaTourette said. "It's not good for the nurse and it's even worse for patients."

Cathy Glasson, president of the Nurse Alliance of Service Employees International Union, said regarding the bill that, "No patient wants to be cared for by a nurse at the end of a 16 hour shift. That's when errors are most likely to occur."

“Short staffing and forced overtime are also huge factors in the growing number of nurses leaving the profession. To keep patients and nurses safe, Congress should end this dangerous practice," added Glasson.