Nurses are drowning: State must mandate enforceable staffing ratios - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Nurses are drowning: State must mandate enforceable staffing ratios

Taken from | Opinion

By Nicole Mankowski, President, HPAE local 5186

June 2, 2023

At the height of the COVID pandemic three years ago, my nursing colleagues and I were struggling to keep patients alive. Since then, we’ve faced many surges in COVID cases. We’ve mourned the loss of colleagues and patients. And we struggled with our own wellbeing as we contracted COVID ourselves.

Now we must confront a different healthcare crisis, as nurses who are caring for too many patients are choosing to leave hospital bedside care. Simply put, there is a staffing crisis here in New Jersey, as understaffing is driving our healthcare industry to the absolute brink of collapse.

So that leads us to a new fight. We need our state legislature to pass a law this year mandating enforceable staffing ratios.

With that in mind, a few weeks ago, my colleagues and I chose to celebrate Nurses Week by heading down to Trenton for an important rally. On May 11, we boarded the bus at Christ Hospital in Jersey City — along with dozens of other Hudson County nurses — and converged with hundreds of nurses from across the state to tell New Jersey elected officials that we are overworked and overburdened and it’s their turn to now help us.

Everyone knows that the staffing crisis in hospitals began well before the pandemic hit in 2020. It was a problem forged years ago by the hospitals themselves. COVID only exacerbated things, with an already-stressed workforce migrating out of hospitals in record numbers. And now hospitals are clearly having even more difficulties retaining staff, let alone in a manner that is safe for patients.

Our hospitals here in New Jersey have failed the workers who spend every day providing care for people at their most vulnerable. Hospitals are simply failing to schedule enough nurses to care for patients. And invariably care suffers due to a numbers issue.

Frontline healthcare workers – both new and old – are migrating out of bedside nursing at a staggering and alarming rate. And it’s due to untenable, unreasonable, unsafe working conditions. Working shorthanded has created both a stressful environment for nurses, and a danger for patients. We are losing new nurses faster than ever before. And older nurses are retiring sooner than they’d planned. The burnout is real.

So, nurses are sounding the alarm loud and clear. This is a CODE RED when it comes to the lack of safe staffing in New Jersey’s hospitals. And our elected officials need to heed our warning. They need to focus on both recruitment and retention. Obviously, we must recruit new nurses into the field to help alleviate the critical shortage. But this is not nearly enough as a strategy. We must also provide strong incentives to not only lure back nurses who left the profession due to burnout and a distinct lack of support, but also to retain nurses who remain at the bedside. We must stop the bleeding when it comes to healthcare workers migrating out of the field.

It’s not complicated. We must keep nurses at the bedside, so we can safely care for patients.

The best, simplest, strongest way to accomplish this is for the legislature in Trenton to move quickly to mandate safe staffing levels in all hospitals. So, I urge them to pass and sign S.304/A.4526 into law.

During the darkest days of the pandemic, we provided care for thousands of people without question, knowing we weren’t safe ourselves. The least legislators can do now is give us the help we desperately need, as well.

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