Nurses and Healthcare Workers Launch Fight Against Staffing Crisis in New Jersey - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Nurses and Healthcare Workers Launch Fight Against Staffing Crisis in New Jersey

New Jersey’s overworked, overburdened workforce call on lawmakers to pass safe staffing bill

A coalition of unionized nurses and healthcare workers joined HPAE President Debbie White in Trenton today to announce a push to pass NJ-S304, a law mandating enforceable staffing ratios, this year in the state legislature.

Unionized nurses and healthcare workers will campaign, including holding a Rally for Safe Staffing on May 11th in Trenton, to push the New Jersey legislature to pass a law mandating enforceable nurse staffing levels in hospitals.

White, a registered nurse, said healthcare corporations are putting profits ahead of patient safety.

“Our healthcare system is in crisis as we continue to lose dedicated healthcare professionals to burnout and stress,” White said. “For years we have been talking about safe staffing because we have witnessed firsthand the deliberate understaffing of our healthcare institutions by hospital and healthcare corporations that cut staffing down to its lowest number to maximize profits. Many who left the field prior to the pandemic did so because the work environment was untenable.”

As part of the campaign to pass the bill, HPAE today released a new position paper, “CODE RED: Understaffed. Overworked. Unsafe for Everyone. The Urgent need for Safe Staffing Legislation in New Jersey.”

The report states:

“Hospitals will argue they need flexibility, and call staffing ratios ‘one size fits all’. Nurses will tell you hospitals already use a staffing ‘matrix’, but too often the numbers are based on budgets, and who is available, rather than what patients need. In addition, the ratios HPAE proposes follow national nurse practice guidelines, for example, in ICU, and post-operative recovery care.”

HPAE has also galvanized allies across labor, patient advocates as well as elected leaders in the effort to secure passage of the legislation.

State Sen. Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-LD 14) and Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (LD-32) are the sponsors of NJ-S304/ A-4536.

“Our healthcare workers have been on the front lines of an unprecedented global pandemic,” Greenstein said. “Measures like this safe staffing bill are needed to improve working conditions at our hospitals, to ensure that staff is well-equipped to provide exceptional patient care, and ultimately, to save lives. I’m proud to be a sponsor of this bill and hope to see my colleagues support its movement through the Legislature.”

“Establishing minimum registered professional nurse staffing standards plays an important role in the delivery of safe, quality care to patients,” Assemblywoman Angelica M. Jimenez said. “It is crucial that healthcare institutions maintain safe staffing levels to ensure patient safety and satisfaction, reduce healthcare costs, and improve nurse working conditions. By doing this, patients can recover from their ailments with comfort, satisfaction, and ease, and nurses can approach their work with the ease they desire.”

NJ AFL-CIO President Charlie Wowkanech said safe staffing ratios saves patients’ lives and improves working conditions in healthcare facilities.

“We’re calling on the legislature to listen to the essential workers and their constituents calling for them to take action on NJ-S304, which establishes minimum staffing standards for hospitals and other healthcare facilities,” Wowkanech said.

“Our nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system,” he continued. “But current staffing levels are threatening our healthcare system’s ability to provide the level of care we need, and it is taking its toll on already strained healthcare workers. Unfortunately, some hospitals are opposed to improving staffing ratios because they are choosing to prioritize profits, even as we reach a post-pandemic healthcare staffing crisis point. S-304 would establish the fair patient-to-nurse ratios we need to improve our healthcare system.”

Elfrieda Johnson, President, JNESO District Council 1 IUOE-AFL-CIO, said Passing this bill would increase patient safety, patient satisfaction, and less burnout which would ultimately increase nurses job satisfaction.

“We need this bill because, safe staffing saves lives and increases job satisfaction,” Johnson said. “When we are working, we try to do our best to provide optimal care to ensure patient satisfaction. When we don’t have adequate nurse-to-patient ratios it can cause patient care to be compromised leading to job burnout and, in some cases, resulting in nurses leaving their career earlier than planned.”

The problem is frontline health care workers continue to migrate out of bedside nursing at an alarming rate because of untenable working conditions, a crisis that was especially exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Working shorthanded creates undue stress for healthcare workers, making their work environment unsafe and leading to tremendous burnout. When health care workers suffer, the unavoidable result is that patient care suffers.

Barbara Jones, Vice President of the Board, JNESO District Council 1 IUOE-AFL-CIO, everyday nurses are being stretched to the limit with minimal ancillary staff, it is very frustrating.

“There are already staffing ratios in areas like the ICU and Labor and Delivery, so there is no reason why ratios shouldn’t be mandated to help the nurses in other units like Med-Surg and the ER that are overwhelmed and struggling to give the best care because they don’t have ratios in place,” Jones said. “That is why we need safe staffing ratios, once they are mandated they have to be followed which puts the needs of the patients – and nurses — first.”

Nurses and healthcare workers shared experiences of how short staffing is causing the healthcare workforce to leave their profession in record numbers.

Lisa A. Ruiz, a registered nurse at the Shore Nurses Union (NYSNA) said her local supports and will continue to fight for safe staffing ratios for all New Jersey patients and Registered Nurses.

“The quality of care that patients receive when understaffed can be unsafe,” Ruiz said. “We demand safe staffing ratios for every patient. Approximately, two thirds of the nurses in the country are projected to leave the profession in the next two years. Safe staffing ratios will help to retain experienced RNs and recruit new RNs to the bedside.”

HPAE Local 5105 President Sheryl Mount, a registered nurse at Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly, NJ, said she has been coming to Trenton to get a safe staffing bill passed.

“We have asked for solutions, but the situation has only worsened and become a crisis that threatens our very health system,” Mount said. “You have to wonder how long it will be before the system is so broken that it just won’t be there for the people who need it. There’s a lot of work to do to fix the profession and the healthcare system. We are not heroes; we just want to do our jobs safely and professionally.”

Doreen Jones, a registered nurse and a member 1199J member at the Jersey City Medical Center, said she has worked bedside taking care of patients for over 31 years.

“I am not just talking about this staffing shortage,” Jones said. “I lived it and still living it. A state staffing ratio mandate will solve this problem. It’s not only important, it’s imperative that we pass this bill. Not tomorrow, today. We have no more time to waste. There will be a time when you will be in that bed, or I will be in that bed and wish that we have the nursing staff to take care of us.”

“Unfortunately, I’m a dying breed because no one is staying at the bedside for 30 years anymore,” Judy Danella, RN, USW Local 4-200 said. “We need safe staffing for our patients and for caregivers. You can’t have a nurse in the emergency room with nine to 13 to 15 patients and expect that patient to get the care that they need.”

Michele Liebtag of CWA 1036 pledged that her local will fight to pass the safe staffing bill into law.

“Making sure hospitals and other medical facilities have a safe number of staff to care for our loved ones affects every New Jerseyan – rich or poor, old and young, on all sides of the political divide,” Liebtag said. “This is an issue of savings lives and improving medical outcomes for everyone. As the Union representing regulators at the NJ Department of Health who inspect medical facilities and investigate complaints of short staffing, our members see the critical need to improve staffing. We stand with our union brothers and sisters to ensure hospitals are doing the right thing by the public, patients and everyone working in these facilities.”

HPAE’s Debbie White called on New Jersey legislators to answer their constituents’ call on this issue. The safe staffing bill is a first step and should be part of multifaceted programs to solve this issue, including a focus on both recruitment and retention, she said.

“We must stop the current migration out of the field,” White said. “Our health care system is in crisis as we continue to lose these dedicated health care heroes to burnout and stress. Patients are suffering. We must stop the bleeding. The answer must start with an enforceable safe staffing law in New Jersey.”

For more information, contact: Michael Allen, (646) 436-7556.