May 05, 2005
Jemarion Jones
(202) 639-6405

AFGE Decries Crisis of Overworked Nurses

Washington - National Nurses Week is celebrated annually May 6-12 to recognize the enormous efforts nurses make each day to save lives and maintain the health of millions of individuals. However, despite the hard work and dedication of America's nurses, overall patient care is being compromised because nurses are overworked and hospitals are severely understaffed says the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). "During National Nurses Week, we should do more than just thank nurses for their hard work," says AFGE National President John Gage. "We should do what we can to help them do their jobs more effectively and safely."

Recent studies have revealed a clear link between overworked nurses, staffing shortages and patient care. According to a University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing study, 20,000 people die each year because they checked into a hospital with overworked nurses. The study also found that Americans scheduled for routine surgeries run a 31 percent greater risk of dying if they are admitted to a hospital with a severe shortage of nurses.

"The understaffing issues really hit home for the VA because registered nurses are being forced to care for too many patients at the same time," says Gage.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the Nurse Staffing Standards for Patient Safety and Quality Care Act of 2005 (H.R. 1222), will help patients receive safe, quality care by requiring hospitals to follow minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. The bill also would require that the Department of Health and Human Services establish staffing requirements for licensed practical nurses. To assure that nurses are free to speak out for their patients, the bill includes whistleblower protection. "Veterans and the nurses who care for them will benefit from passage of this important nurse staffing legislation because it applies to VA hospitals as well as Medicare reimbursed hospitals," says Gage.

Gage adds, "Nurses are overworked and underappreciated. It's encouraging that members of Congress recognize that this is a real problem. However, if something isn't done soon, medical errors will increase, patients will be put at risk and nurses will continue to leave the hospitals that so desperately need them."

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