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News ::
Nurses call for limits on mandatory overtime to protect the quality of care
20 Feb 2002
Exhausted, overworked nurses seek legislative remedies
Boston – Several nurses who spoke before an SEIU “town meeting” on February 20 said understaffing is making it difficult for them to provide the best possible care for their hospital patients or nursing home residents. The nurses called for legislation limiting mandatory overtime and setting safe staffing levels.

“Chronic understaffing in our hospitals is hurting patient care. Last year we documented more than 1,100 unfilled nursing shifts at Boston Medical Center in just four weeks,” said Mary Ellen Costa, a Registered Nurse at BMC. “Short staffing is causing nurses to leave the profession in record numbers.”

“I regularly work the 3 to 11 o’clock shift at the Edgar Benjamin nursing home. Night after night I wonder if management will find someone to take over at 11 o’clock or if I’ll be forced to work a double shift,” said Rosemarie Symes, an LPN at Benjamin. “No hospital or nursing home should regularly use mandatory overtime as a way to staff their facilities.”

Ruth Hatch, an LPN employed by Correctional Medical Services at Bridgewater State Hospital described the extraordinary lengths that her employer went to force nurses to work overtime.

“In early October last year all the nurses on the 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm shift were literally locked-in until someone ‘volunteered’ to work the next shift,” said Hatch. “Management actually made us prisoners to coerce someone to work an extra shift. That kind of mandatory overtime will only have a bad effect on the quality of care. It certainly doesn’t make nursing a more attractive job.”

Congressmen Barney Frank and Michael Capuano, state Senators Richard Moore and Susan Fargo, and state Representatives Christine Canavan and Kathleen Teahan were expected to attend the event sponsored by the SEIU Nurse Alliance.

Kate Mathews, an RN with the Boston Public Health Commission and one of the leaders of the Nurse Alliance, closed the meeting by calling on all of the elected officials to pass nurse-backed legislation limiting mandatory overtime and setting safe staffing levels for health care workers.

“I think most health care policy makers recognize that there is a serious nursing shortage,” said Mathews. “But in order to attract and retain qualified nurses, something has to be done about working conditions like short staffing and mandatory overtime that effect patient care. We’ve got to let the public know that unless things get better, many nurses will leave hospital and nursing home jobs for easier and better paid jobs elsewhere.”

“About 80 percent of all hospitals are reporting a nursing shortage,” said Celia Wcislo, president of SEIU Local 285. “The mass exodus from nursing has already produced a severe crisis. If lawmakers don’t act soon, it will only get worse.”

SEIU’s Nurse Alliance represents more than 110,000 nurses. It is part of the 1.4 million member Service Employees International Union, the largest union in the AFL-CIO and the nation’s largest health care union, representing more than 710,000 health care workers.

SEIU Local 285 is a statewide union of health care workers and public employees with more than 11,000 members. The local union represents employees at more than 50 hospitals, health clinics and nursing homes in Massachusetts.

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