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HomeHealthcarePutting Vital Safety Regulations to Work

Putting Vital Safety Regulations to Work

Members of AFT Connecticut-affiliated healthcare unions did not rest on their laurels after improving working conditions in 2023. They have since focused on both enforcing a strengthened hospital staffing law while also advocating for additional protections against incidents of violence. In a recently published commentary, state federation Vice President John Brady, RN (second row, third from left, in photo, above), shared how nurses and health professionals have turned their collective action into an “incredible internal organizing tool:”

Connecticut’s staffing legislation went into effect last October, and we’ve been making great progress on our Code Red campaign goals. We have established stronger staffing committees in all eight acute care hospitals that we represent. We’re training committee members on how to participate in meetings and what the committees and staffing plans should look like under the new law.

Click here for Brady’s previous commentary on passage of the strengthened staffing law.

We’re also educating our members more broadly about the legislation. We created a Safe Patient Limits “toolkit” with webinars and additional resources, and we’re working with our national union on a webinar series on staffing committees, including how to use the committees for internal organizing.

Click here for this website’s toolkit section.

We’ve also been working to ensure that hospitals abide by the legislation. The first staffing plans under the new law were submitted to the state on January 1. At five of our hospitals, the administration submitted the plans that our committees developed, voted on, and approved.

At the other three hospitals, the administration refused to submit the committee-approved plans to the state. Instead, perhaps thinking they could get away with subverting the law, they submitted separate plans that had not been approved by the committees. In one of these, William Backus Hospital in Norwich, the meeting minutes that are available to everyone clearly show that the plan passed by the committee is not what the hospital submitted.

Hospitals that violate the law by not meeting their approved staffing numbers 80 percent of the time will face penalties beginning this October, but they must adhere to the other parts of the law – like posting the committee-approved staffing plan- now.

Click here for recent press reporting on hospital administrators refusing to follow the staffing law.

So, we filed complaints against these three hospitals with the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH), the agency enforcing the legislation. Our staffing committee labor co-chair submitted the committee-approved plans to DPH, and regulators are investigating.

We know that DPH will want us to work this out with management at each hospital.

However, these managers are trying to manipulate their way into the ratios that they mistakenly believe are good for their bottom lines. In meetings, they say things like, “this will cause backups in the emergency waiting room; how would you feel if that was your family?”

This is not a capacity issue. Proper staffing ratios improve safety, patient outcomes, and nurse recruitment and retention – and research shows they are good for the bottom line.

Click here for a recent study on the impact of legislation mandating hospitals’ caregiver-to-patient ratios.

Unless we force health chain administrators to staff at levels at which nurses feel safe and able to give patients the care they deserve, nurses will continue to be pushed out of the profession. Our members have pushed back, and we have the majority vote, so we hope DPH will back us up. If they don’t, we have enough friends in the legislature and in the governor’s office to address that.

This year, we are also working on workplace violence, another issue that ties into recruitment and retention. There was a horrible incident last fall when a visiting nurse was murdered during a home visit. There have been other situations where the home care assignment was in a dangerous neighborhood.

We’re lobbying for greater safety measures for our members that include and go beyond adequate staffing.

Click here for press coverage of our healthcare workplace violence advocacy earlier this year.

We need a way to assess potential risks and flag those in patient charts. We also want wider access to the hands-on de-escalation training that tends to be only available for staff in the emergency or psychiatric departments. It should be required for anyone who interacts with patients, whether in clinical or support capacities.

We’re working with a coalition that includes the Connecticut Nurses Association (CNA), other unions in the state and interested legislators to strengthen Connecticut’s existing staff safety legislation.

Editor’s note: the bill received final General Assembly approval eight days after initial publication of Brady’s commentary and was signed by the governor in late May.

Click here for reporting on lawmakers’ passage of the proposal to shield healthcare professionals from violence.

Additionally, Joe Courtney, one of our congressmen, has been working on an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for workplace violence for years. We are cautiously optimistic that we may get that standard this year.

This Code Red campaign has been an incredible internal organizing tool. Our staffing committees have really owned our new legislation, and we’re going to keep communication channels open so that we know what’s going on at the different hospitals and can learn from each other.

Many Connecticut hospitals are still not unionized. My hope is that through this campaign they see what can happen when people are empowered to use their collective voice – and that they’ll join us so they can make a difference in their hospitals, too.

Click here for Brady’s original commentary published in AFT Health Care.

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connor
Communications Coordinator for AFT Connecticut, a labor federation of over 30,000 hard-working women and men in the Nutmeg State.

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