Safe Patient Care Act

Keith Flynn is the Chair of the Genesee County Democratic Party and a labor and employment attorney with Miller Cohen PLC representing workers in the public and private sectors.

In a recent study conducted in 2013 by the Journal of Patient Safety, an estimated 440,000 patients die every year from preventable medical errors making it the third leading cause of death in this country.  

What is the cause of this alarming number?  Many hospitals are overworking nurses to the point of exhaustion and mandating that they work an obscene amount of overtime caring for too many patients per nurse.  This has been shown to increase the risk of infection and other preventable mistakes jeopardizing patient health and safety.

Currently, there is no law in effect that limits the number of hours that a registered nurse can be forced to work.  While federal law prohibits truck drivers from being forced to drive over 11 hours at a time or more than 13 hours without a 10 hour off-duty break to protect drivers and the public, no such law exists to protect nurses and patients.  Instead, nurses are being assigned shifts longer than 12 hours—some are even being assigned shifts over 20 hours straight.  

Overworked nurses, who are too exhausted to perform day-to-day tasks, let alone incredibly technical tasks related to a patient’s health and safety, are being required to work several shifts in a row under threat of being fired or losing their license. When coupled with nurses being forced to attend to a ridiculous number of patients that even a fully awake medical professional would have difficulty treating, rampant mistakes are made that place patients at risk.

Democrats are looking to do something about this.  Local State Representatives, John Cherry, Sheryl Kennedy, Sheldon Neeley, and Tim Sneller, have co-sponsored the Safe Patient Care Act (HB 4279, 4280, and 4281).  The legislation would require public hospitals to develop a nurse staffing plan for registered nurses and would require hospitals to maintain a staffing level necessary to ensure a safe nurse-to-patient ratio.  

The Act would also prohibit hospitals from working nurses to the brink of exhaustion by forcing them to work more than 12 hours per shift.  Also, the Act would require that hospitals provide 8 hours of continuous rest after nurses have finished shifts of 12 or more hours. Furthermore, the Act protects employees who report violations of those standards or for refusing unplanned extended shifts.  Finally, the Act would require public hospitals to disclose the nurse-to-patient ratio, so patients can make an informed decision as to their care.

If you would like to support bills like this, join your local Democratic Party, and let your voice be heard.  The Genesee County Democratic Party meets the second Thursday of the month at 6pm at UAW Region 1D, 1940 W. Atherton Rd., Flint, MI 48507.  Our next meeting is June 13th. Come join us!

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