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Stark moves to limit nurses’ forced overtime

pete-stark.jpgWays and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, today introduced the Safe Nursing and Patient Care Act which would strictly limit the use of forced overtime for nurses. It’s endorsed by groups including the American Nurses Association, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, AFT, SEIU and UAN.

“Mandatory overtime exhausts nurses mentally and physically, placing patients’ lives at risk and driving nurses out of the profession,” Stark said in a news release. “We limit the time that truck drivers and pilots can work to protect public safety. Safe nursing is in the public interest as well.”

The bill would strictly limit the use of mandatory overtime for nurses to situations in which an official state of emergency is declared by federal, state or a local government. These limits would be included in Medicare’s provider agreements but wouldn’t apply to nursing homes since there are alternative staffing and quality measures moving forward for those facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services would get new tools to enforce these standards, and nurses would get new protection from discrimination by employers who continue forcing them into working hours beyond what they believe is safe for quality care.

Though Stark and LaTourette have yet to start seek cosponsors, 102 members had cosponsored a similar measure Stark introduced in the 109th Congress; it languished in committee without a hearing. The same fate met the Senate version, pushed by Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and John Kerry, D-Mass.; rumor has it they’ll carry it again in the 110th Congress.

“No patient wants to be cared for by a nurse at the end of a 16-hour shift. That’s when errors are most likely to occur,” Cathy Glasson, a registered nurse with 20 years of experience and the President of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU, said in Stark’s release. “Short staffing and forced overtime are also huge factors in the growing number of nurses leaving the profession. To keep patients and nurses safe, Congress should end this dangerous practice.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.