COVID New York: Nurses on the frontlines demand minimal staff, healthcare industry pushes back


NEW YORK – Nurses on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York are calling on the state to adopt minimum staffing standards before another wave of infections. Health, however, warned that the adoption of such a law would entail billions of dollars in additional costs for establishments.Under legislation currently before a legislative committee, the state would set minimum nurse-to-patient ratios for the first time, including a standard of one nurse for two patients in intensive care units.

California now has such a law. Other states do not. Supporters say the legislation would improve the quality of care, reduce staff burnout and let the state hold health facilities accountable for understaffing.

The minimum staffing ratios could also have helped last spring, they say, when hospitals and nursing homes in the New York metro area were overwhelmed by an influx of COVID-19 patients.

“If we had put in better staffing before COVID-19, if we hadn’t been stretched too far, we could have managed the flexibility and scale-up needed,” said Pat Kane, who heads a union representing nurses statewide.

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Health industry groups have long called minimum staffing levels too expensive and unnecessary. They say implementing staffing mandates now would be particularly damaging as hospitals face severe revenue losses.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised in 2018 to set safe staffing levels, which he said were “tied to quality care,” but this month his health department released a report estimating that the proposed staffing rules would require nursing homes and hospitals to hire 35,000 nurses, at a cost of about $ 4 billion.

“During the crisis, the increase in costs would have been unbearable, on top of the extremely costly increase in the costs of the frontline hospitals engaged,” said the president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, Kenneth Raske, this month -this. “Now, in the transitional era of COVID-19, when hospitals are fighting for their survival even due to severe loss of revenue, such a mandate is unthinkable. ”

It is also unclear whether staffing mandates would have made a difference in an extraordinary crisis like the one that enveloped the healthcare system last spring, when hospitals received so many dying patients they had to bring in refrigerated trucks. to manipulate bodies.

At the same time, many health workers themselves fell ill, disrupting regular staffing plans. With help from the state and staffing agencies, the hospitals brought in thousands of temporary workers, often people from other states, but it took weeks for help to arrive.

The state health department report said hospitals need to maintain flexibility in staffing, especially during a crisis.

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Bea Grause, chair of a statewide group representing public and nonprofit hospitals, said the report confirmed long-standing concerns about “rigid and government-mandated staffing ratios. government ”.

Congressman Richard Gottfried, a Democrat from New York, called the report “disappointing.”

“He recognizes that higher levels of staffing save lives,” he said. “But that doesn’t seem to offer an alternative to the loss of those lives. ”

Kane said the report repeats old arguments, ignores potential savings and inflates costs by more than $ 1 billion. She said the state should have interviewed front-line nurses and looked at staffing levels in hard-hit minority communities.

“Everything is such a fight for these nurses,” she said. “It’s one thing to say that they are heroes and that they made the sacrifice. But listen to them, and it’ll show them that you really think that… Because they dread the idea, they can’t imagine going through something like this again. ”

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