Make us your home page

Nurses rally for safer staffing

Some 175 nurses from around Florida unite to rally for lifesaving patient safety improvements in Tallahassee on Wednesday.

Associated Press

Some 175 nurses from around Florida unite to rally for lifesaving patient safety improvements in Tallahassee on Wednesday.

Before Gwen Collins headed to Tallahassee this week to ask lawmakers to limit the number of patients each hospital nurse cares for, she asked her fellow RNs at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa if they had a message to convey about their workloads.

Their response: "Tell them this is madness."

"Nurses want to see safety for patients and sanity for themselves," said Collins, a registered nurse who has heard similar sentiments from burned-out nurses at hospitals throughout the country. "They want to make sure mistakes are not made."

Patients who have wondered why their call button isn't answered aren't the only ones frustrated with the status quo. With medical errors in U.S. hospitals causing up to 98,000 deaths and 400,000 drug-related injuries each year, registered nurses across the nation are pushing for laws that would mandate higher staffing levels. Florida nurses, who have seen similar efforts go nowhere during the last two legislative sessions, are organizing to try again.

On Wednesday morning, about 175 nurses from throughout the state, including 33 from the Tampa Bay area, rallied across from the Capitol wearing red scrubs and coats. They were in town to lobby legislators to support a bill that would establish nurse-to-patient ratios based on patients' acuity. In the intensive care unit, that would mean no more than two patients per nurse; in the emergency room, the ratio would be one nurse for every four patients. The bill would also guarantee whistle-blower protection for nurses who expose unsafe conditions.

Florida is one of about a dozen states seeking to follow the lead of California, where an aggressive nurses union pushed through patient ratios in 2004 over protests from both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state's hospital industry. In Florida the effort this year is being led by the new state chapter of the National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of the California Nurses Association.

Florida's Hospital Patient Protection Act is sponsored by Rep. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, both of whom acknowledge the bill faces an uphill battle. Braynon sponsored similar bills during the last two sessions. "At least we want to put it out there again to educate people about the full nature of what nurses are going through," he said.

Nurses can expect opposition from their employers, according to Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Hospital Association.

"Hospitals face widely varying peaks and valleys in terms of the number of patients and their acuity levels," he said. "It makes more sense for nurses and management to work together to determine the most effective staffing."

The California experience, which Rueben said is seen by hospital officials as an example of what not to do, has had mixed reviews. California hospitals have complained about the difficulty of meeting rigid staffing standards and blamed the law for longer wait times in the ER and higher costs.

Though nurses say it's cost-effective to put more RNs at bedside, where they can work to prevent infections and bedsores, independent studies have found no change in length of stay or adverse events in California's hospitals since the ratios went into effect.

But nurses from the Tampa Bay area who went to Tallahassee say the existing situation, where hospitals cut staffing to cut costs, jeopardizes patients as well as nurses, whose licenses are on the line.

Tina Bauer, a nurse at St. Anthony's in St. Petersburg, usually cares for six or seven patients recovering from orthopedic surgery.

"If you're giving pain meds to six patients, somebody's going to have to wait, and that last person is not thrilled," said Bauer, a nurse for 33 years. "If you have to help feed a patient recovering from shoulder surgery, by the time you get to the last patient, they're going to be quite perturbed."

Cheryl Lecher of St. Petersburg has worked as a contract nurse in several hospitals in the Tampa Bay area and is currently on assignment at a South Florida hospital. After three decades in nursing, Lecher has seen increased reliance on technology and lower-skilled aides as her patient load rises.

"On any given day, nurses are catching five to 10 errors, with patients being given the wrong drugs or drugs being given to patients with certain allergies," Lecher said. "The buck stops with the nurse when she's handing that pill to that patient. It's overwhelming."

And nobody can tell Collins, the nurse from St. Joseph's, that California's hospital care has not improved. She recently spent five years as a contract worker at hospitals nationwide. In California, she had four patients in a post-operative-telemetry unit. At St. Joseph's, she's routinely assigned six post-surgical patients.

"In California, I had time to teach patients and do good charting," she said. "Here people are constantly rushing to get the orders done."

Kris Hundley can be reached at [email protected] or (727)892-2996.

Nurses rally for safer staffing 02/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 10:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. ReliaQuest opens storefront in mock city of JA Biztown

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — ReliaQuest, a Tampa-based cybersecurity company, opened a "storefront" Wednesday at JA Biztown. The storefront is part of a mock city where students learn economic concepts and run businesses. About 20 real-life Tampa Bay companies sponsor storefronts that local students get to run for a day as part of a …

    ReliaQuest, a Tampa-based cybersecurity company, opened a "storefront" Wednesday at JA Biztown, a mock city where students learn to run businesses. | [MALENA CAROLLO, Times]
  2. Love My Dog owner promises to treat dogs like her own


    SOUTH TAMPA — Lots of folks daydream about quitting their jobs to play with dogs, but shortly after moving to Florida 15 years ago, Natalie Conner actually did it.

    Some happy customers at the grand opening of Love My Dog Pet Resort’s third location in South Tampa on Oct. 14.
  3. Family brings edible cookie dough to Collins Produce stand


    VALRICO — Like anybody with a sweet tooth, Scott Laviano has been known to sneak behind his wife, Rose, while she bakes cookies and steal one of the dough balls from the baking sheet before it hits the oven.

    Scott, Rose and Scottie Laviano have opened Eddie Bull’s Cookie Dough inside Valrico’s Collins Produce.
  4. Philanthropist Helen DeVos, wife of Orlando Magic owner and mother of Betsy, dies at 90


    GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Helen J. DeVos, a philanthropist from western Michigan known for her support of children's health, Christian education and the arts, has died at age 90, her family said Thursday.

    Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos, left, waves to fans while watching court side with his wife, Helen, during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls in Orlando. The family of Helen DeVos said the philanthropist from western Michigan known for her support of children's health, Christian education and the arts has died. She was 90. Her family said she died Wednesday, Oct. 18, of complications from a stroke following a recent diagnosis of myeloid leukemia. [Associated Press]
  5. Former Jabil executive again found guilty for 2008 double murders


    Patrick Evans, the former Jabil executive charged with the deaths of his wife and her friend, was found guilty by a jury Wednesday night.

    Patrick Evans talks with Allison Miller, one of his three public defenders, before jury selection continues in his trial Wednesday 10/11/2017. Patrick Evans, a former Jabil executive charged with killing his estranged wife and her friend almost ten years ago, was back in court for a second trial after his original death sentence conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court.