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Nurses union urges Congress to pass legislation targeting ‘unsafe’ staffing levels

Close up of nurse with mask
Photo: Feverpitched/iStockphoto

Silver Spring, MD — The nation’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses is urging Congress to pass pending legislation that would “end the industry-created nurse staffing crisis” by setting mandated staffing levels in hospitals, as well as take other actions that would improve working conditions for nurses.

In a report released Dec. 9 and during a Congressional briefing hosted by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) on the same day, National Nurses United claims that hospitals nationwide – “in pursuit of profits” – cut corners decades before the COVID-19 pandemic. That cost cutting, in tandem with the pandemic, has led to “intolerable working conditions under which many nurses are unwilling to practice and has led to current crisis levels of unsafe staffing.”

Specifically, the union contends hospital employers have endangered the health and safety of their nurses by putting them at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19, mental distress, workplace violence and musculoskeletal injuries.

In the report, NNU details how insufficient staffing levels have led to nurses caring for more patients than they can handle safely. As a result, nurses are facing increased stress levels, overexertion, and more interaction with frustrated patients and families. The union also notes that hospitals didn’t provide proper personal protective equipment early in the pandemic until they were forced to do so.

NNU is calling on Congress to:

  • Pass the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act of 2021 (H.R. 3165), sponsored by Schakowsky, as well as a companion bill in the Senate (S. 1567), sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
  • Pass the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1195), which passed in the House in April and was sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT).
  • Increase funding for OSHA enforcement programs and the hiring of inspectors for the health care sector.
  • Pass legislation mandating paid sick, family and precautionary leave for nurses and other workers.

NNU also is calling for legislation that requires hospitals and government to maintain and report on PPE stockpiles, expands Defense Production Act of 1950 powers over PPE and medical supply chains, and prohibits the reuse and extended use of single-use PPE.

“We call them heroes,” Schakowsky said of nurses in an NNU press release. “If we truly value their work and their sacrifices, we must give them the support that they are asking for.”

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