Kiggans, Matsui, Merkley Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Keep America’s Nurses, Patients Safe

Mar 14, 2024
Healthcare
Press

WASHINGTON, DC: This week, Congresswomen Jen Kiggans (VA-02) and Doris Matsui (CA-07) announced the introduction of the Nurse Overtime and Patient Safety Act. Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) has introduced this legislation in the Senate. 

To meet staffing-related challenges, nurses are often forced to work mandatory overtime beyond their scheduled shift, which can endanger both worker well-being and patient safety. In order to address these challenges, this bicameral, bipartisan bill would provide nurses with stronger federal workplace safeguards.

“As a nurse practitioner, I know that staffing shortages and hectic schedules have forced healthcare systems across the country to require long overtime hours for nurses,” said Congresswoman Kiggans. “The extended shifts our nurses are often required to work out of necessity can cause fatigue and impaired vigilance that is not good for nurses nor their patients. I’m proud to introduce the Nurse Overtime and Patient Safety Act which will put much-needed overtime regulations in place, establish better working hours for our nurses, and prioritize high quality care for patients while preventing burnout in our healthcare workforce.”

“Nurses do lifesaving work on the front lines of patient care, ensuring our comfort, safety and quality of care when we need it most,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “Unfortunately, persistent staffing challenges have led to increases in mandatory overtime, resulting in exhaustion and burnout amongst our nurses that jeopardizes patient safety. 18 states, including my home state of California, have put measures in place to restrict these practices. The Nurse Overtime and Patient Safety Act expands commonsense safeguards nationally to protect our nurses and ensure patients get the highest quality of care.”

“Nurses are the backbone of our health care system. As the husband of a nurse, I know these heroes give so much for the well-being of their patients,” said Senator Merkley. “We know the dangers of truck drivers or pilots working too many hours in a row and the unacceptable risks it poses for their job performance; nurses are no different. Tired nurses are at risk for making dangerous patient care errors. The bipartisan Nurse Overtime and Patient Safety Act would secure protections for these overworked, selfless caregivers at the federal level, ensuring that nurses can continue to safely do their jobs with the basic dignity and respect they deserve.”

To date, 18 states have passed legislation or issued regulations restricting mandatory overtime for nurses. The Nurse Overtime and Patient Safety Act would provide strong protections at the federal level for all of America’s 5.2 million registered nurses – the single largest group of health care professionals in the nation, as well as nearly 1 million licensed practice nurses. The Nurse Overtime and Patient Safety Act would limit mandatory overtime for nurses by prohibiting health care facilities from requiring nurses to work with certain exceptions, adopt whistleblower and nondiscrimination protections to protect nurses against retaliation, and impose civil penalties for each known violation.

The bill is endorsed by over 40 organizations, including the American Nursing Association, American Federation of Teachers, National Nurses United, and SEIU. A full list of supporting organizations can be found here

“Being expected to provide patient care with inadequate sleep and few breaks is unacceptable and unsafe. This is why some industries, like the trucking and aviation industries, have restricted mandatory overtime to protect their workers and the public. Yet, nurses have never been afforded similar protection, relegating them to compromise patients’ safety while at work, and regularly their own while driving home exhausted. Placing reasonable restrictions on the use of mandatory overtime for nurses is long overdue. The American Nurses Association (ANA) thanks Senator Merkley and Representatives Matsui and Kiggans for recognizing this and taking action by introducing the Nurse Overtime and Patient Safety Act. ANA implores Congress to enact this legislation to protect nurses and their patients from the negative outcomes of pushing nurses to their breaking point,” said ANA President Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN.

“Too many hospitals around the country are facing high patient levels and a shortage of trained healthcare professionals to meet the demand, but instead of hiring more nurses, hospital management doubles down on mandatory overtime for current staff. The additional hours and longer days lead to burnout, and an increase of nurses leaving the bedside for different work. The Nurse Overtime and Patient Safety Act will protect nurses who need to say no to assignments, while allowing nurses who can safely work more hours to do so. This legislation is an important component of improving working conditions for AFT nurses and patient care. I thank Senator Merkley for his leadership,” said Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

“Nurses across our nation are being forced to work overtime when they are already exhausted from working a full shift. This is dangerous for nurses and for patient care. Registered nurses in the U.S. are leaving the bedside at astonishingly high rates due to horrible working conditions. To allow hospital employers to continue exploiting nurses by mandating overtime will continue to exacerbate the national staffing crisis. Senator Merkley’s legislation will give nurses essential protection from mandatory overtime and the tools necessary to hold employers accountable. National Nurses United strongly endorses the Nurse Overtime and Patient Safety Act and encourages every U.S. Senator to pass the legislation,” said Jean Ross, RN, National Nurses United President.

“Mandatory overtime is the result of systemic short staffing and nurses, our co-workers and the patients we care for and serve carry the brunt,” said Martha Baker, RN, chairperson the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare. “In the same way nurses are entrusted to provide expert, compassionate care, we must be entrusted to know our limits, and not be forced to work excessive hours,” Baker said. “For decades, SEIU nurses have been sounding the alarm on the inexcusable and unsafe practice of forcing nurses to work excessive hours. It’s time to put patient care over profits and ban mandatory overtime once and for all.”

The full text of the bill can be found here

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