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Growing Concerns for Labor Standards in Nursing

Joan Spitrey, via Multibriefs

Labor issues among nurses are not a new topic. Considering there is little legislative oversight surrounding staffing and healthcare's current financial instability, the tension between nurses and their employers will continue to be present.

However, the tension seems to be on the rise in recent years.

Staffing issues are nothing new in healthcare, especially surrounding nursing. Considering the complexity of caring for patients in an ever-changing environment, it is difficult to have a consensus on how best to manage these concerns.

Nurses, for the most part, want to appropriately and safely care for their patients in a supportive environment where they are valued for their part in patient care. However, they rarely have input into the decisions that impact their work and ultimately patient care. Often nurses work through their breaks and frequently are required to stay after their already-long shifts to complete work or documentation that could not be completed.

A recent collective action lawsuit against Dallas' Methodist Health is attempting to shed light on some of these complex issues. The case centers on the fact that the staff was automatically deducted their mealtime, whether it was taken or not. In essence, the hospital assumed the nurses took an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break each shift.

However, according to the claim, the nurses may have been pulled away from their breaks to respond to patients or doctors, or to perform other duties. By not providing appropriate coverage during breaks, the nurses are required to continue their responsibilities despite being on break — for which, according to the claim, they should be properly compensated.

Not only does this claim shed light on unfair labor practices, it certainly demonstrates the institution's disregard for providing a healthy work environment for the nurses and ultimately patient safety. Research repeatedly demonstrates that when nurses are tired and overworked, they make more errors. Therefore, it become imperative for an institution to create a healthy work environment, not only as a courtesy to its employees, but also for the safety and well-being of its patients.

Kaiser Permanente nurses in the Bay Area of California recently announced they would stage pickets at seven regional hospitals to draw attention to staffing levels that are affecting quality care and placing patients at risk. The nurses allege that Kaiser has failed to hire more nurses, including resource nurses who provide support to bedside nurses.

They also claim that despite raising premiums for their members, they continue to provide reduced-quality care in their failure to provide more nursing staff. California is the only state where staffing ratios are mandated, but there clearly are continued struggles between those at the bedside and those holding the purse strings.

Although seemingly isolated incidents, it can be rightly postulated that these two highly publicized situations are far less rare than many want to discuss. The upcoming year is starting to shape up to be a battle between big health corporations and the nurses who continue to provide care in their institutions.

As more and more nurses become cohesive, their strength in numbers to fight for safe patient care will not continue to be ignored. Ultimately, that's what nurses do best.

Joan Spitrey has been a registered nurse for more than 16 years, specializing in critical care and acute care services. She currently is a clinical nursing instructor, sharing her passion with the next generation of nurses. She can be found blogging at TheNurseTeacher.com.

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