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Nurses unions propose solution to injuries, patient safety

Vernon Dutton


The American Nurses Association reports 8 out of 10 nurses say they frequently work with joint or back pain. The nursing profession has the highest rate of on-the-job injuries of any other in the country. According to many the solution to both problems: more nurses on staff at hospitals.

"The nurses, in many ways, are the last line of defense against harm to patients," John James, founder of Patient Safety America. His organization campaigns to lower the number of injuries to patients in the hospital.

James says when a nurse is stretched too thin, they’re less likely to catch errors and more likely to make a few of their own.

  Another patient advocate and retired nurse, Kathy Day says she wants to see hospitals increase the number of nurses they schedule to care for patients. Day believes this will prevent overwork and injury to both the nurses and people in their care. At the end of a long shift nurses can have a harder time focusing.

"There mental sharpness is not going to be the same. They'll be fatigued both physically and mentally," said Day. "It may increase the number of medication errors: wrong dose, wrong route, wrong patient. They make take short cuts because their exhausted."

Labor Unions across the country say the answer is legislation that mandates what they call safe staffing ratios - a set number of nurses for each patient that varies based on how sick the patients are.

"Studies have also clearly demonstrated that when you have adequate staffing levels the numbers of injuries to nurses goes down," said Lisa Baum, Occupational Health and Safety Representative for the New York State Nurses Association, the state’s labor union for the profession.

Some New York hospitals employ a Safe Patient Handling Task Force that deal with issues nurse training, staffing, and ratios.

Former nurse Day says tasks forces like these can work if hospital administrators are using them to hear from nurses in the workplace.

"I think when nurses speak everyone has to listen and it’s not just because I’m a nurse," Day said.