What New Nurses Contracts Mean for Patient Care in New Jersey - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

What New Nurses Contracts Mean for Patient Care in New Jersey

Taken from New Jersey 101.5

By Eric Scott

June 10, 2024

New Jersey’s largest nurses union has been negotiating new contracts with staffing levels they say will improve patient safety and quality of life for nurses.

Nurse-to-patient ratios have been at the heart of negotiations with multiple hospitals in recent weeks.

The latest settlement is with Hackensack Meridian’s Palisades Medical Center, whose contract with their nurses expired two weeks ago.

Details of the contract will not be revealed until ratification votes are taken on June 12, but the union says this deal will help prevent burnout of existing nurses as well as aid in recruiting and retention.

“The negotiated language will go far in recruiting and retaining the hospital’s most valuable asset, the staff,” said Debbie White president of the Health Professionals & Allied Employees union.

Historic deals for nurses

The HPAE has long been warning of the toll staff ratios are taking on nurses and patients. They have released data that shows patient mortality rates go up significantly when nurses are caring for too many patients at one time.

More than 90% of nurses at four New Jersey hospitals authorized a strike if better nurse-to-patient ratios were not achieved.

The deals reached with Palisades Medical Center, Englewood Health and Cooper University Medical Center in Camden are being called by union officials “historic and groundbreaking” in terms of “protecting patients and respecting health care workers.”

Staffing ratios at Englewood Health and Cooper University Medical Center resulted lowers ratios to an average of 1 nurse to every 4-5 patients. The deals also includes a 1-to- 2 critical care patients.

It’s expected the deal reached with nurses at Palisades Medical Center will contain similar staffing levels.

“Throughout these negotiations HPAE Local 5030 healthcare workers have demanded safe staffing ratios in their contracts because they know it benefits patients,” White said in a statement.

RWJBarnabas nurses strike set the bar

The issue of nurse-to-patient ratios was thrust into the spotlight during a prolonged strike at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick last year.

“The nurses are on strike to protect our patients. The nurses are on strike because we want better staffing, so we can deliver better care,” Renee Bacany, an RWJ nurse for 17 years, told New Jersey 101.5.

“We don’t want to see anything missed. We don’t want to see that our patients don’t get the care that we would always deliver in the past. When I started 15, 17 years (ago) it was extremely different than it is now,” Bacony said.

The strike at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital lasted more than four months as both sides haggled over what they each believed were “safe staffing levels.”

White said the final agreement with RWJ would serve as a benchmark in future negotiations.

“I don’t think our members will tolerate any less,” White said.

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