J. David Cox, a registered nurse and first vice president of AFGE's National VA Council, will point out that DVA's nursing shortage will only get worse as more employees are eligible to retire. To resolve this critical problem, Cox will highlight core working conditions within DVA that must be addressed to improve recruitment/retention and establish DVA as an employer of choice.
"The use of mandatory overtime is a short-sighted response to inadequate staffing, placing patients at risk and putting extraordinary burdens on direct patient care staff," Cox will state. He will ask the committee to support legislation that would curb mandatory overtime to improve quality care, working conditions and protect patients. "DVA nurses must have the ability to stop the overtime clock unless there is a real emergency, not a failure of management planning," he will add.
Pointing out that staffing standards at DVA facilities are inconsistent, inadequately measured and unaccountable, Cox will urge that DVA be required to create a joint labor-management committee to establish safe staffing levels at all DVA facilities and provide a report on the development and implementation of these standards.
"In addition to safe staffing, limiting the abuses of mandatory overtime and enhancing nurses' ability to advocate for patients, a key area in need of improvement is pay," Cox will explain. He will note that between 1994 and 1997 the wage growth for nurses fell by 1.5 percent annually. "In order for DVA nurses to maintain a decent standard of living, locality pay and full pay raises for nurses on pay retention must be addressed."
Cox will also emphasize the need for DVA to aggressively recruit new nurses in anticipation of the retirement of a significant portion of its nursing work force. "AFGE strongly believes that DVA would benefit from a revitalized upward mobility program for current staff that encourages them to go into the field of nursing and other health care professions on the verge of shortages, such as pharmacy and social work," Cox will state.
"AFGE recognizes that many approaches to the nursing shortage must occur to resolve a problem that has been years in the making," Cox will conclude. "Addressing these adverse working conditions at DVA is a necessary and prudent course to improve quality of care and protect patients."