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Nurses rally for national law mandating ratios for patient care in hospitals

Hospital care suffers because overworked nurses are assigned too many patients and are unable to voice their concerns out of fear of reprisals from administrators, members of a nurses union said Dec. 8.

About 300 nurses from across the country demonstrated outside the offices of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, a group that advocates for hospitals and health care systems, in support of legislation that would, among other things, cap nurse-to-patient ratios.

Jan Rodolfo, a registered nurse from California, the only state with a law establishing such ratios, said many nurses elsewhere feel overworked and some flee the profession as a result.

“They feel like they are not able to provide the kind of care they were trained to provide,” she said.

The nurses were in Phoenix for a conference at which they formed National Nurses United, a union for nurses around the country.

The group contends that the federal legislation, which is awaiting committee action in the Senate, would allow nurses to provide better care. The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association opposes the legislation, as do the Arizona Nurses Association and the Arizona Organization of Nurse Executives.

The three Arizona groups issued a joint statement in response to the rally, saying in part: “Ratios undercut the skills, knowledge and experience of nursing professionals. Ratios are inflexible numbers that do not take into account individual patients’ needs and different levels of acuity and complexity among patients.”

In addition, the statement said, hospitals require nurses to develop treatment plans that assess the individual needs of a patient. The groups said that these plans are flexible, unlike mandated ratios, and allow for nurses to adjust staffing for patients whose conditions suddenly change.

Rally leaders also said Arizona hospitals resist efforts to organize nurses into unions and stifle those who disagree with policies and procedures.

Debbie Rice, who has been a nurse in Arizona for 30 years, said she was demoted, along with six other nurses, after complaining about staffing conditions. While the hospital denied it, she said, Rice said it was retaliation for speaking out.

“We’re constantly being told do more with less,” Rice said. “Arizona already has one of the worst nursing shortages in the country, and that’s just going to get worse. And that’s just not a good thing for the patients.”

Joyce Benjamin, executive director for the Arizona Nurses Association, said in a telephone interview that her organization doesn’t oppose unions, though she said it prefers collective action to collective bargaining. She said she hadn’t heard of nurses facing retaliation for speaking out against policies.

“Nurses are in such demand, it would be silly for hospitals to do that,” Benjamin said. “Our turnover rates in Arizona are fairly low, and if there was a lot of that going on, our turnover rate would be much higher.”

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