We want to update everyone on the work of our Nurse Advisory Council to the PA Department of Health, and to invite you to an important upcoming event we’re coordinating around the COVID vaccine. We hope you will continue to participate with us as we continue to lift up the voices of bedside nurses with policy-makers moving forward!
Last month, former Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine was chosen to join President Biden’s administration as Deputy Secretary for the US Department of Health.
Although we were ecstatic to see Sec. Levine step into this role, it was disappointing for our Nurse Advisory Council to lose her as our leader in Pennsylvania after the strong relationship we’ve built over the past year and the many accomplishments that came out of our Nurse Advisory Council meetings (Most notably the nursing home and hospital accountability executive orders). From universal long term care testing to PPE orders and COVID response plans, members of our union involved on the nurse council were able to collaborate with the department to make real improvements in COVID response across Pennsylvania.
Despite the setback of losing Sec. Levine, we were eager to hold an initial meeting with the new Department of Health Secretary Alison Beam, who came from Governor Wolf’s administration as a Deputy Chief of Staff for Health Policy. Our goal for the meeting was to demonstrate the value of regularly consulting with nurses on the frontlines to craft policy that works for those providing care and to lift up the necessity for healthcare reform as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
On our first call with the new Secretary, one of our Nurse Advisory Council member shared her experience about the ongoing struggle for nurse retention in healthcare facilities and the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the nursing workforce at the bedside. She lifted up how there are a shrinking number of experienced nurses who have 5-10 years of experience at the bedside and how few new graduates stay in bedside care beyond their first three years.
Our nursing home nurse leaders from Northwest PA emphasized one of our most urgent priorities: securing higher staffing levels in nursing homes through an increase in staffing regulations from 2.7 care hours per patient per day up to 4.1. They reiterated that the updates to these regulations are more than 30 years overdue and also connected the shortage of nursing home staff to the lack of worker protections for staff at the bedside.
After a thoughtful dialogue with our Nurse Council members, Secretary Beam acknowledged the urgency of our demand and asked for our help in bolstering support for improving staffing regulations when they are released for public comment.
Additionally, we shared results of our survey from December, where 21% of nurses answered that they were unsure whether they’d get the COVID vaccine and 23% said they would not, and talked through those nurses’ answers as to what would make me more likely to get the vaccine. We both agreed on the importance of holding a vaccine townhall for all healthcare workers, facilitated by our Nurse Advisory Council members, so that we could create a space to answer questions and for healthcare workers to develop a deeper understanding of the process to be able to provide accurate, up-to-date information to others.
Join the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Nurse Alliance of SEIU PA, SEIU Healthcare PA, Nurses of PA, and healthcare workers across Pennsylvania for a townhall to address questions about the COVID vaccines and the vaccination process so that healthcare workers get the information we need and can help answer questions for others.
We are eager to continue to build our relationship with the Department of Health and will have opportunities for you to give us feedback and ideas of what issues we can focus on with the Secretary for next month’s meeting of the Nurse Advisory Council.
Lastly, you can click here to see a brief overview of the results of our December Working Conditions Survey, which we’ve shared in more detail with the Department of Health and Department of Labor, particularly with regard to the issues raised regarding the enforcement of existing workplace protections those departments are responsible for. We’ll continue to share updates about these and other advocacy efforts.