CT legislature to deal with nurses, other health care professionals spread thinly

HARTFORD — Connecticut state lawmakers are spearheading a push this session for legislation that limits the number of patients seen by nurses and other health care professionals and discourages mandatory overtime, both of which threaten, they Say, the quality of patient care in hospitals.

Similar legislation was called for before the pandemic, but the national shortage of health care professionals, particularly nurses, has deepened following COVID-19. Union leaders said Monday that it has forced some people out of health care and pushed others to the point of exhaustion.

“Before the pandemic, we were under strain on our health care system,” said state Sen. M. Saud Anwar, a pulmonologist and co-chair of the legislature’s joint committee on public health. But after Covid-19, “it is a crisis, but it is fast moving towards a disaster. And disaster can be prevented.

At a news conference in the legislative office building, Anwar said health care workers – known as heroes during the pandemic – are burned out and 1-in-5 nationally have left the profession. On top of that, 1-in-3 of those left behind are thinking about giving up bedside health care.

Randi Weingarten, national president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents doctors and tens of thousands of nurses, said she cannot stress enough the exhaustion, breakdown and “moral injury and danger” that nurses and other health care workers face. Guess “all the time.”

“I’m here today to ask you to help us,” Weingarten said, his voice rising to a scream. “If you help us, we will be able to help more patients. People who go into health care want to make a difference in the lives of others. Help us do it. Don’t let us deal with dangerous situations that are getting worse.”

Weingarten said physical assaults on nurses — spitting, hitting and kicking — lead to dangerous workplace conditions.

Weingarten blamed large health systems built upon acquisitions of hospitals for profit over patient care.

Sherry Deaton, a nurse and union president at Backus Hospital in Norwich, said she has seen nurses responsible for 4-5 patients in a shift grow to eight.

Dayton said, “I want you to do the math and watch the clock.” “Studies have shown that if a nurse can come into that room once an hour, it will reduce the risk of falls, it will reduce infection, it will increase good skin care so they don’t get pressure ulcers.” It will do this so that their risk of dying in hospital will be greatly reduced.

Dayton said on average she spends 10-15 minutes getting to a patient’s room.

“If I have eight patients, am I going to see them every hour?” Dayton said. “there’s no way.”

The Connecticut Hospital Association said in a statement released after the press conference that legislation requiring certain nurse-to-patient ratios would not help solve the problem.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., pledged Monday to support federal legislation ensuring safe staffing levels for nurses and protecting them from physical assaults at work from patients.

“Focusing on government-mandated nurse staffing ratios will stop the work we need to do,” said Jennifer Jackson, the association’s chief executive. “In fact, staffing ratios will exacerbate the problem, causing delays in care and costs, with corporate nurse staffing agencies as potential beneficiaries.”

Instead, the state should focus on building a strong health care workforce, including educating, training and retaining more health care professionals in Connecticut.

US Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., kicked off Monday’s press conference by saying that the issue is a priority at the federal level as well, and that he supports legislation that will be introduced in the US Congress. The bill would focus on employee level and workplace safety, addressing physical assaults.

“It’s not about the higher pay, although nurses need higher pay and they deserve it,” Blumenthal said. “It’s not about comfort or convenience. It’s about fundamental health for people in Connecticut. You forget how much you need to nurse until you need a nurse. As long as your vital signs go south Unless you’re writhing in a hospital bed and needing pain medication.

Blumenthal said it would be necessary for the law to have — whether at the state or federal level — a structural framework for protection and enforcement for whistleblowers.

Blumenthal acknowledged that the legislation would face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

“But I can tell you this, and I’m certain of it, Connecticut can help lead the way,” Blumenthal said.

Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at [email protected]

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