They lined the hallways, crowded the stairwells and eventually packed the Hearing Room of the District of Columbia Council Monday. Room 412 may never have seen such a spirited gathering – 200 RNs – and some additional supporters, with a press section full up. Quality healthcare reaches into all our lives.
The way to get there for Washington DC patients, explained Rajini Raj, RN, is to pass and implement the Patient Protection Act, a new measure introduced by DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson with the support of 10 of 13 DC Council members.
The bill is already endorsed by National Nurses United Catholics United, DC Jobs with Justice, the Government Accountability Project, Housing Works, the Washington Teachers’ Union and many others. The outpouring of support for this bill is pervasive and powerful.
"We’re here today to talk about what is nothing less than a patient care crisis in DC’s hospitals,” said Raj, a cardiac unit nurse at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, “and about a badly needed legislative solution.”
The proposed law benefits all patients in the District with mandatory minimum nurse-to-patient ratios by hospital unit, whistle-blower protections and an end to mandatory overtime. Nurses are burned out and that puts patient care in jeopardy. “This is a problem at every single hospital in the city,” said Raj.
A survey of the DCNA nurses recently carried out showed that 57 percent of nurses say staffing is always or often inadequate; 64 percent say they have less time to care for their patients; and 60 percent say changes in their workload have led to worse outcomes for patients.The DC legislation is modeled after the California ratio law pioneered by the California Nurses Association and underpinned by multiple nationally-recognized scientific studies. For example, a University of Pennsylvania 2010 study comparing California’s surgical staffing to that in Pennsylvania and New Jersey found that if those two states matched California's ratios, New Jersey hospitals would have 14 percent fewer patient deaths, Pennsylvania 11 percent fewer.
Bonnie Linen-Carroll, RN, an OR nurse at Washington Hospital Center, emphasized, “I have dedicated my life to providing nursing care to people who are at their most vulnerable,” she said. Linen-Carroll set her sites on intransigent management. “[T]he hospital corporations refuse to ensure that there are enough registered nurses working at the bedside.”
DC RNs celebrate introduction of bill outside John A. Wilson building in Washington
At several intervals in the one-hour presentation, calls for “patient care above profit” were loud and clear.
Others at the press conference included Margaret Shanks, RN and president of the District of Columbia Nurses Association/NNU, Jos Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council (AFL-CIO), Rev. Dr. Carolyn Boyd-Clark, Plymouth Congregation United Church of Christ, Rabbi Elizabeth Richman, Jews United for Justice and Hedy Dumpel, RN, JD, and National Director of Nursing Practice and Advocacy for NNU.
Ratios in California, said Dumpel, led to greater patient safety. She added, “I would like to see the Hospital Association produce studies to back up their (opposition) claims!”
Mendelson,compared the legislation to the fight for an eight-hour day. He vowed to give the bill a high priority. And his colleague, Yvette Alexander, chairwoman, Health Committee, District of Columbia, concluded her remarks this way, looking out the hundreds of nurses in red smocks and tee-shirts: “We appreciate you, we admire you, we respect what you do.”