May 06, 2003
Diane Witiak
(202) 639-6419

AFGE Applauds Introduction of the "VA Medical Workforce Enhancement Act Of 2003"

(Washington, D.C.)—“Our union is deeply concerned that the VA’s staffing ratios, like many private hospitals, are unsafe and are placing veterans at unnecessary risk,” said AFGE National President Bobby L. Harnage, Sr., following House introduction of the VA Medical Workforce Enhancement Act of 2003. “Nurses are concerned that when they are forced to care for too many patients they do not have adequate time to provide each veteran with high quality and compassionate care.”

H.R. 1951, the VA Medical Workforce Enhancement Act of 2003, was introduced yesterday in recognition of Nurses Day (May 6) by Representatives Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) and Jack Quinn (R-N.Y).

This bipartisan bill would give dedicated VA health care professionals the tools to work within the VA to establish agreed upon nurse-to-patient ratios and patient caseload levels that would reduce the risk of patient deaths or serious complications and enhance the quality of care.

“There is a clear link between nurse-to-patient ratios and patient successes. For every additional patient over four in a Registered Nurse’s workload, the risk of death increases by seven percent for surgical patients,” Harnage added. “Unfortunately, many VA facilities do not meet the threshold safe ratio of one RN to four medical/surgical patients.”

Harnage noted that at both the VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Fla., and in the VA’s Boston Health Care System nurse-to-patient ratios for surgical patients runs anywhere from one to six during day shifts to as high as one to 13 on night shifts.

H.R. 1951 would help improve the quality of care and staffing levels on weekends by authorizing the VA to pay Saturday premium pay as needed for ancillary and allied health care workers. The bill ensures that VA is able to retain highly skilled and qualified nurses by improving promotion opportunities for nurses. It also strengthens the clinical performance-based criteria for rewarding and recognizing nurses, and advances VA’s efforts to mentor and support nurses at the beginning of their careers.

“The provisions in H.R. 1951 will greatly enhance the quality of patient care by giving VA’s caregivers the tools they need to be more effective advocates for patients and enhancing VA’s ability to retain and recruit key hospital staff,” Harnage concluded. “AFGE applauds Representatives Lynch and Quinn for their bipartisan efforts to improve VA health care.”

The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, is the largest union for government employees, representing 600,000 federal workers in the U.S. and overseas, as well as employees of the District of Columbia. AFGE represents some 150,000 VA employees nationwide. To learn more about AFGE, visit

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