Archive for March, 2012

Tougher Penalties for Harming Nurses

Posted in Nurse Safety, Nursing, Nursing News

Image courtesy of KOMUnews via Flickr

Dealing with violent patients is a fact of most nurses’ lives.

New legislation in Nebraska would stiffen the penalties for harming a nurse, bringing it more in line with existing laws about harming police officers, for example.

The Omaha World-Herald has an article explaining that about 1,300 assaults of nurses and other health professionals occur every day nationally, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

In an example of such an assault, one ER nurse reached out to a large man who seemed extremely nervous as he entered the emergency room. She was just doing what she was trained to do but the man turned on her and beat her horribly, which left her out of work for six months and permanently traumatized.

That and similar stories helped push passage in the Nebraska Legislature on Thursday of a bill to toughen penalties on those who assault nurses and others who work in hospitals and health clinics.

Under Legislative Bill 677, sponsored by State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, assaulting a health professional would bring the same potential penalty as assaulting a police officer: It would be a Class 3A felony, punishable by up to five years in prison or up to a $10,000 fine, or both.

Each emergency room and clinic would also be required to post a sign at the entrance warning that assaulting workers is a felony.

Currently, a typical assault would result in a misdemeanor charge, which carries less serious penalties.

Lathrop said health professionals deserve special treatment because they are particularly vulnerable and because of the work they do. Nurses, he said, must work in close proximity to patients and assume a level of trust with them.

“Nurses open themselves up to provide care to someone and, unexpectedly, they’re assaulted. They’re not expecting to be hit,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more of a problem.”

Lathrop, an attorney, represented a registered nurse at Papillion’s Midlands Hospital who was assaulted by a mentally disturbed patient in 2007. The nurse now has permanent eye injuries.

Several other stories of violence in emergency and hospital rooms in Nebraska were aired at a public hearing on the bill last year. Health professionals say they can be in harm’s way when gang members or upset family members go to an emergency room seeking retaliation after a shooting or an assault.

Officials from Omaha-based Alegent Health testified that 65 assaults occurred in a year’s time at their five hospitals in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area.

“Violence is part of our society, and it’s brought in from the streets to the emergency ward,” said Karen Wiley, an Omaha nurse. “People who are intoxicated will act out and hit someone. Because it’s a misdemeanor, arrests are not always made.”

Minnesota Nurses Lobbying for Safer Workplaces

Posted in Nurse Safety, Nursing, Nursing Jobs, Nursing News

Minnesota State Capitol courtesy of TBoard via Flickr

Nurses in Minnesota are calling for new legislation that would set a limit on how many patients may be assigned to hospital nurses.

A one-day strike by the Minnesota Nurses Association in 2010 was focused on the issue of safe staffing, and union leaders are now accusing hospital officials of breaking promises made after that strike to address staffing questions. The nurses feel that inadequate staffing is endangering their patients, and have collected nearly a thousand reports in just the last half of 2011 to support this claim.

The president of the nurses association, Linda Hamilton, said in this article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “”We’ve been left with no choice but to take our concerns to the state Legislature.”

The new legislation, called the 2012 Staffing for Patient Safety Act, would set a maximum number of patients for each nurse, depending on the level of care required. For example: no more than three patients per nurse in emergency departments, or four patients per nurse in medical and surgical units.

Union officials were joined by two legislative supporters, Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker. Hayden said the Legislature generally “doesn’t like to get in the middle” of such disputes, but that in this case, “it’s a necessary evil.”

Two years ago, the union tried unsuccessfully to get hospitals to set specific nursing ratios as part of a new contract, a goal the national union has pressed in other states as well.

Ratios termed unworkable

Hospital officials argued that staffing ratios are expensive and unworkable.

The standoff led to a one-day walkout by some 12,000 Minnesota nurses in June 2010. They eventually reached an agreement that called for the two sides to work together on staffing concerns.

But the problem is “worse than ever,” according to a statement released by the union. Hamilton said the hospitals have been “stonewalling” attempts to address safety concerns, and that “we need legislation like this to hold hospital administrators accountable and keep our patients safe.”

The union cited several examples of staffing reports filed by nurses in 2011, although it declined to give details because of privacy laws. One said that a patient had fallen, “with significant injuries,” because the nurses had too many sick patients at the time. Another said a nurse was unable to properly comfort the parents of a dying baby because she had to care for another infant at the time. The union said the incidents are typically reported to hospital supervisors at the time.

Massa, though, said hospitals need flexibility to respond to changing demands, not inflexible ratios. “We both want to see the best quality care for our patients,” he said. “We just don’t think that this is the right way to approach it.”