News & Events
For Nurses Week, skip the candy and help us put patients first instead
Commentary by Jeff Breslin, Michigan Nurses Association president, RN at Sparrow Hospital
Nurses Week rolls around each May, with various efforts to recognize nurses for the compassionate and skilled care they provide day after day. Many nurses receive acknowledgement from their employers, often in the form of chocolate, pens and public kudos. Politicians are busy proclaiming their thanks.
While we appreciate these efforts, once the fanfare of Nurses Week ends, nurses are left in the shadows fighting to provide the high-quality care that you and your loved ones deserve. We would prefer that all this energy be spent on real action that helps us have a positive impact on our patients long after the last candy wrapper has been thrown away.
Nurses get into this profession to help people heal and live healthy, fulfilling lives. The patient always comes first to us. We are your advocate when you’re in the hospital. We speak up for you, monitoring your progress and providing your direct care.
We have a problem, though: many hospitals refuse to provide enough nurses. No matter how hard we work, when nurses have to take care of too many patients, many times in units outside our specialty, care can be delayed or diminished. When nurses are forced to work beyond their normal shifts, past the point of exhaustion, the risk of mistakes naturally increases.
The results of staffing shortages can range from heartbreaking to life-threatening: patients unable to get to the bathroom in time; meds delivered late; patients falling as they try to get out of bed on their own; infections after surgeries. Hospitals can, and must, prevent these incidents by having adequate nursing staff on duty at all times.
The solution is in Lansing legislators’ hands. The Safe Patient Care Act requires hospitals to develop plans that provide sufficient, appropriately qualified nursing staff in each unit. This would vary based on the intensity of care; for example, a 1:1 ratio in ICU. The legislation also bans the unsafe practice of mandatory overtime.
At Sparrow Hospital, we reached a cutting-edge staffing agreement through collective bargaining in 2010 that has improved patient care. It’s critical that Michigan protects collective bargaining rights, because only this protection ensures that nurses have the ability to advocate for our patients.
However, it will take a change in the law to make every hospital provide enough nurses to guarantee high-quality care for every patient. That's why the Safe Patient Care Act, sponsored by State Rep. Jon Switalski in the House and State Sen. Rebekah Warren in the Senate, deserves bipartisan support.
While hospitals will say they cannot afford increased staffing, research and California’s experience with nurse-patient ratios show that safe staffing saves lives and saves money. Hospitals more than make up expenses in reduced nurse turnover and better patient outcomes.
Nurses advocate for you at the bedside and the Capitol. We urge you to join us by contacting your state legislator and telling them to support the Safe Patient Care Act.
Hopefully, when next Nurses Week rolls around, we’ll all have a real reason to celebrate.
Jeff Breslin, RN, is president of the Michigan Nurses Association, which represents more than 10,000 registered nurses around the state.