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May 07, 2016

Union nurses say patient safety depends on adequate staffing

Errors multiply when the ratio of patients to each nurse is too large

Nursing Patient Care

A rally of about 100 gathered outside City Hall Saturday to call for better staffing levels at area hospitals. A study last week found that preventable medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the country.

About 100 nurses, union organizers and supporters rallied outside City Hall in Philadelphia Saturday, calling for better staffing or nursing and nursing support jobs in local hospitals.

The group of about 100 were from Temple University Hospital, Hahnemann University Hospital, Einstein Medical Center, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Delaware County Memorial Hospital, Crozer Chester Medical Center, Suburban Community Hospital, and Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital.

Tracey Schonley, a nurse for 20 years now assigned to the recovery room at Hahnemann, said nurses unionized there in January and are now pressing for added personnel on routine patient floors as they work toward a union contract.

Heather Deutch, 39, a critical care nurse at Hahnemann for the past four years, said she’d like to see standards for staffing mandated 14 years ago in California adopted by her employer, an issue they are negotiating about.

Studies show, she said, that errors multiply when the ratio of patients to each nurse exceeds four.

Relatedly, the "British Medical Journal" last week reported that the third greatest cause of death in America are medical errors, topped only by cancer and heart disease.

The nurses union, PASNAP, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals would like to see increased staffing as they push to unionize. They added 6,000 additional members last year.

Maureen May, 55, president of the local chapter at Temple and a nurse in the infant intensive care unit, said her hospital is often “challenged by what is happening on some units.”

A nurse for 32 years, she believed she has witnessed preventable deaths due to inadequate nurse and support staffing in the adult cardiac intensive care unit at her hospital several years ago.

“That was part of what led me to advocate for the union and better care for patients,” she said.

Patrick Kelly, 44, an Einstein medical intensive care nurse with 19 years of experience, said he believes patients with inadequate nursing staff tending to them, often stay hospitalized longer.

Spokespersons for Hahnemann, Temple and Einstein did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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