Minnesota nurses to lobby for staffing standards

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One goal the nurses hope to accomplish is to limit the number of patients a nurse is responsible for per shift.

Nurses typically focus on their patients’ health, but during the next legislative session they’ll focus, in part, on their own.

The Minnesota Nurses Association announced Nov. 14 plans to lobby the Legislature to change the standards for Minnesota nurses’ workloads, Carrie Mortrud, governmental affairs and public policy specialist for the association, said.

Nursing junior Sue Perkins practices nasopharyngeal suction on a mannequin Wednesday during a lab in Weaver-Densford Hall. The Minnesota Nurses Association plans to lobby the state Legislature next session to change the standards for nurses’ workloads.

The association hopes the standards will limit the number of patients for which a nurse is responsible in a given shift.

For example, a nurse would only be responsible for four patients, and would be able to give patient care first and handle other responsibilities – among them, stocking supplies and settling doctor disagreements – second, Mortrud said.

“We want to establish some sort of accountability responsibility related to that number so that nurses could give safe care while patients are under their care,” she said.

While the association tries to negotiate directly with employers for staffing standards in employee contracts, this is the first time the association has felt the need to lobby at the state level, Mortrud said.

Complaints that nurses felt overwhelmed with extra tasks on the job stemmed from the association’s research and the University’s School of Nursing, Christine Mueller, the study’s researcher and associate professor of nursing, said.

The School of Nursing has the largest graduate program at the University, according to its Web site.

The study looked at “what happens to nurses when they’re doing their regular responsibilities,” she said. “When these interruptions come up, it all happens within this condensed time frame. It’s not like they get another hour to finish their work.”

Jan Rabbers, a spokeswoman for the association, said new staffing standards could help alleviate these pressures.

“There’s so many other things being thrown in,” she said. “We think that it’s important to legislate standards at this point. It helps to establish dependability.”

The association’s studies show nurses feel these extra tasks hurt their job performance.

Of the nurses surveyed, 90 percent said they felt communication and emotional support suffered when registered nurse staffing was inadequate. Seventy-three percent said basic tasks, such as hygiene, were not completed when they should be.

Mortrud said the lobbying efforts will be as much for patients as for nurses.

Nursing junior Sue Perkins prepares a suction tube for her lab Wednesday in Weaver-Densford Hall. Of nurses surveyed, 90 percent said communication and emotional support suffers when staffing is inadequate.

“You’d have some flexibility to actually address some of those unplanned events,” she said. “We don’t staff for those kinds of events. We’re just expected to absorb it.”

Sandra Edwardson, a professor of nursing, said she is opposed to requiring a certain number of nurses staffing a shift because the need varies more by the type of care needed rather than the number of patients.

“Somebody may be about ready to go home but have a lot of needs,” she said. “Just because somebody is no longer severely ill does not necessarily mean they don’t have continuing needs.”

Mueller said she hopes new policies will “assure there are the right number and types of nurses available to take care of patients based on the patient’s needs,” she said.

Rabbers said she hopes mandating legislation will help nurses feel more comfortable at work. She said 69 percent of nurses the association surveyed said they had worked understaffed two or three times per month.

“I can’t imagine an airline pilot having to go through that same ordeal,” Rabbers said.

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