Dressed in scrubs, over 100 Pennsylvania nurses from across the state rushed over 10,000 petitions into the state capitol on July 31st. The nurses are fighting for safe patient limit laws, which will save lives in hospitals and nursing homes.
“As nurses, we will always help our patients and protect them from harm,” said Dan Eaton, a nurse from Erie. “In Pennsylvania 1 in 10 patients who are dying could be saved by legally requiring safe patient limits. We’re asking our legislators to do the same thing we’re doing – Protect the citizens of our state. They can do that by passing these laws.”
Nurses have collected over 10,000 signed petitions in support of the bills (HB1500/SB214) that would limit the number of patients a nurse can be asked to care for at one time. For over a year, they have been visiting legislators, telling them about first-hand accounts of the nurse staffing crisis, which results in 60% turnover of new nurses within a year of them beginning their first job.
“After being a nurse for only 10 months, I was put in charge of the other nurses on my floor because I had the most experience,” said Debbie Vandover, an RN from York. “Hospitals and nursing homes cannot be a rotating door of nurses, but that’s what it’s become because of the overwhelming stress. We need to fix this because patients need experienced nurses to take care of them.”
Contrary to a commonly-held belief, Pennsylvania does not have a nursing shortage. In fact, enrollment in Pennsylvania RN programs has increased by 49% since 2003, and by 138% since 2002. But research shows that burnout due to short staffing is the single biggest driver of nurses leaving the profession. Currently, 30% of licensed RNs in Pennsylvania are not working in the profession.
“This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue,” said Kathleen Halligan, a nurse from Western PA. “This is a human issue about saving people’s lives. Right now, patients are often shuffled through the system rather than getting personal, individualized care which can be lifesaving. We advocate in our hospitals but we’ve hit a wall. We need politicians to listen to those on the front lines and pass these laws.”
Nurses delivered the petitions to staff in the offices of Representative Kathy Rapp and Senator Lisa Baker who chair the state health committees and told the nurses that they will look into scheduling a public hearing in this session. 49 legislators have already cosponsored the bill for safe patient limits, and Governor Wolf has announced his support as well.
“I don’t care how many times I’m hung up on, I don’t care how many times I feel discouraged or my opinion devalued, I will never stop being an advocate for my patients – whether that’s to the CEO of my hospital or to my legislator,” said Kim Heverly, a nurse from the Altoona area. “I will always do whatever I can to save my patients’ lives.”
The rally and petition delivery capped off Pennsylvania’s first-ever Nurses Safe Staffing Summit. The event is led by Nurses of PA, a non-profit, non-partisan movement of union and non-union nurses who are leading the charge for safe staffing laws.