by Clyde Weiss | May 07, 2012
National Nurses Week, celebrated May 6 through 12, is the time to honor these hard-working professionals who dedicate their lives to helping others. But it’s also an opportunity to consider what we need to do to make their jobs safer – and in the process, improve health care for us all.
The foundation for modern nursing was established by Florence Nightingale, whose work – during the 19th century until her death in 1910 – is celebrated annually on National Nurses Day (May 6). During her career, she helped to improve medical care of the wounded during wartime and, later, patient care in peacetime.
AFSCME – a union for more than 360,000 health care workers across the nation, including more than 60,000 nurses represented by AFSCME/United Nurses of America – is carrying out Nightingale’s legacy by supporting Pres. Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The law is helping to make sure that everyone can get affordable health care. But we need to make sure that those who provide it have the resources they need to deliver high quality and safe nursing care.
That’s why another priority of AFSCME/United Nurses of America is to pass the Nurse Staffing Standards for Patient Safety and Quality Care Act of 2011 (H.R. 2187), introduced by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). The legislation will save lives and improve the quality of care. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced a similar bill (S. 992).
Specifically, the legislation would require that hospitals meet minimum nurse-to-patient staffing levels. Research shows that increasing the ratio of nurses to patients reduces nurse burnout, improves patient safety, and also cuts down on preventable complications, such as medication errors. Patients at hospitals where too few nurses have to cover the care for too many patients had 9 percent more urinary tract infections, 6.5 percent more cases of hospital-acquired pneumonia and were 6 percent more likely to die from complications like shock or sepsis after surgery. Learn more here.
AFSCME has long been a leading advocate for improving health care, including that of the professionals who provide it. We successfully pressed for legislation to help prevent nurses and other health care workers from getting injuries from needles and sharps. That law is working. It has contributed to the decline in such injuries among U.S. hospital workers.