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26,219 Complaints in Two Years: New York State Nurses Association Sounds the Alarm

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It’s been a painful year for nurses all over the country, but the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) is painting a picture of just how difficult the last two years have been for providers up and down the state. Today, the union announced that there have been a whopping 26,219 provider complaints, mostly from nurses, about low staffing in hospitals and nursing homes over the last two years.

The report includes 97,715 nurse signatures because providers can sign their name on each complaint. Overall, that counts out to 35.9 complaints per day, every day for 730 days.

NY Runs Low on Nurses

Nurses submit what are known as “protest of assignments” (POAs) to hospital management if they feel unsafe or unsupported in the workplace. Every POA includes a personal description of the complaint.

The NYSNA released excerpts of the complaints to show lawmakers, providers, patients, and voters what it’s like to work as a nurse in the state.

One nurse wrote:

“High acuity patients, many telemetry, restraint, 2:1 observation and multiple isolations. Only 4 RN scheduled for shift. 1 RN out sick – no RN sent to relieve high ratios. Admissions from surgery as of this time. Multiple patients on bed alarms, majority of floor high fall risk who require staff to remain in bathroom. Patient safety in jeopardy.”

Another complaint reads:

“There is 1 Nurse in Triage & EMS. No Nurse in Asthma (HN covering Asthma). Two (2) Nurses per Team. Inadequate time for documentation and to provide basic & advanced critical care to patients. Lack of staff. Dangerous working conditions. Working: 10 nurses plus 1 Agency Nurse. Needed 7 more nurses.  Bed Capacity: 27 Census: 38.”

And finally:

“Inadequate time for documentation and to provide basic & advanced critical care to patients. Lack of staff. Dangerous working conditions. Needed 7 more nurses.”

The coronavirus pandemic played a major role in the report, but the numbers show that New York had a staffing issue before COVID-19. From 2019-2020 there were a total of 8,812 complaints related to staffing, with 32,888 nurses signing.

The state was hit hard during the early days of the pandemic, with NYC recruiting providers from all over. The infection rate has since cooled, thanks to strict lockdowns and high rates of mask usage. New York has 1.62 million cases with nearly 47,000 deaths, according to the latest statistics.

“Both before and during the pandemic, understaffing at our public hospitals has been severe and puts patients in jeopardy. This condition in our hospitals continues today and our nurses must care for far too many patients. It is unsafe. The communities we serve pay a price– in lives,” said NYSNA Board Member Judith Cutchin, RN, and President NYSNA’s NYC H+H/Mayorals Executive Council.

The report also comes on the heels of a developing scandal involving Gov. Andrew Cuomo. His administration received praise for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic early on in the crisis, but new reports suggest he deliberately undercounted the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50% to avoid being punished by the federal government. The news is forcing New Yorkers and residents all over the country to rethink the state’s approach to the pandemic.

Crying Out for Safe Staffing

The nurses’ union is publishing its findings to raise support for the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, which would require a nurse-patient staffing ratio of 4:1. The bill has already passed the State Assembly Health committee and moved onto the Codes committee. It could be signed into law later this year if it gets approved by the State Senate and Gov. Cuomo.

Linda H. Aiken, PhD, RN, FAAN, University of Pennsylvania, who co-authored the report, issued a press release, saying:

“From our empirical results, we estimated that were all NYS hospitals staffed at the 4:1 ratio proposed in the pending legislation, more than 4,370 deaths would have been avoided just among elderly Medicare patients admitted to hospitals with common surgical and medical reasons during the 2 years of the study, and many more deaths would have been avoided if all patients who benefit from improved nurse staffing were counted.”

Many studies have confirmed that nurse-patient staffing ratios lead to better patient outcomes by reducing the chances of error. It also improves staff safety by reducing burnout and fatigue. California is still the only state with a staffing ratio law, but New York may soon become the second.

The NYSNA has made it clear that the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act is the best way to move forward. It has created a tribute to all their members who have passed away during the pandemic.  

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