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How Will Safe Staffing Affect New York Nurses?

Host Intro: When COVID-19 hit New York State, many unprecedented conditions magnified issues at hospitals. Financial pressures. Staff shortages. Nurses saw the number of patients under their care grow to new levels. But two bills passed by the State Legislature earlier this month are now being celebrated by nursing and patient advocates for trying to address the staffing issues. Karen Maniraho reports on the impacts of this legislation and how it could affect New York’s nurses.

Karen Maniraho: For many nurses, the call to serve is at its core a way to help people. That was the case for Richard Dorritie. Dorritie is a registered nurse and is a Board Member of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses.

He began his career in healthcare as a paramedic. But after breaking his pelvis in a motorcycle accident, his mobility skills were limited. His career as a paramedic was cut short but Dorritie decided to remain in healthcare and pursue a degree in nursing. He wanted to keep giving patients quality care as they faced difficult health emergencies.

Richard Dorritie: I brought a lot to the people who experienced those events and was able to be there and be present and share with them. But when I started to run into the numbers...You just can't, you can't be that and be a quality provider.

Maniraho: Almost immediately, Dorritie noticed the level of care he was able to provide was hamstrung by the numbers of patients he was expected to see. As a paramedic, he was used to being responsible for two patients at a time. But as a nurse at hospitals across New York City, his experience was very different.

Dorritie: It was untenable, the quantity of patients I would have to care for at a single time. I think I hit a maximum of 15 patients at one time.

Maniraho: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Health Outcomes and Policy collected data from medical and surgical patients at more than 100 New York hospitals to determine how staffing affects patient outcomes. They found that if the hospitals mandated only 4 patients for every 1 nurse, 549 lives would have been saved and $360 million dollars in costs could have been reduced with shorter patient stays.

On May 4, the New York State Legislature passed two bills that would require hospitals and nursing homes to establish safe staffing standards. Nurses like Dorritie say the legislation is necessary.

Dorritie: Safe staffing is going to save lives. There's no other way to digest this.

Maniraho: The news bills would require Hospitals to decide how many patients are assigned to each nurse, also known as a nurse-to-patient ratio.

The bill would also require nursing homes to meet minimum staffing levels so that each patient receives at least 3.5 hours of care each day.

Democratic Assembly Member Aileen Gunther sponsored the Assembly version of the bill.

Aileen Gunther: We have watched on our television, day after day, all about the deaths in long term care facilities. This bill is the result of what happened in the long term facilities during the past pandemic.

Maniraho 5: But not everyone is on board with the legislation. Here’s Republican Assembly Member Andrew Goodell.

Andrew Goodell: An expensive, inflexible, top-down mandate that has no local input in developing the staffing. Does not consider the multiple factors that were considered on hospital staffing and will only exacerbate the financial hardships facing our nursing homes today.

Maniraho 6: Last year, the New York State Department of Health released a report that found hospitals and nursing homes wouldn’t be able to pay nursing staff if safe staffing ratios were implemented. It consulted with Cornell researchers and found New York would need an additional $1-2 billion dollars per year to cover increased staffing at hospitals and nursing homes across the state.

The report found another problem too: There were not enough new nurses being recruited and retained in the workforce to achieve the bill’s recommended ratios.

Emma Kechejian is a new nurse. She started a 15-month accelerated nursing program last summer.

She now works at a patient recovery center at NYU Langone Health. On any given day, she is responsible for two patients maximum.

Ambi: (phone rings in hospital)

Kechejian: I think one of the reasons I chose a recovery room actually is because of the small patient-to-nurse ratios.

Maniraho: As a new nurse, Kechejian believes not having many patients allows her to balance giving each patient her full attention and manage her time productively.

Kechejian: It's still, for me, more important that I feel good about two rather than feel stretched, with, you know, five or six at a time.

Maniraho: Because of their efforts during the pandemic, many New Yorkers see nurses as heroes. But with safe staffing standards, paramedic-turned-nurse Richard Dorritie says his colleagues can stop feeling overwhelmed and get back to the real reason nurses chose their profession: patient care.

Richard Dorritie: Nurses have long been one of the most trusted professions, and I think that's because we're disengaged from financial gain or loss based on how we care for our patients. And so being trusted is good, being respected is good. But sacrificing is really inappropriate.

Maniraho: Governor Cuomo has 10 days to sign or veto the bill. If he signs the bill, it would take effect on January 1 of next year.

Karen Maniraho, Columbia Radio News.


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