The proposed bill would also outlaw a registered nurse from working more than 18 consecutive hours.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Nurses from throughout Ohio packed the lawn outside the Statehouse on Wednesday to lend support to a bill that would outlaw mandatory overtime for nurses and make hospitals improve nurse staffing levels.
"We're here to promote safe hours, safe staffing and quality health care," Linda Warino, first vice president of the Ohio Nurses Association, said as nursing supporters gathered outside the Statehouse.
Under a bill introduced by state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, R-Aurora, hospitals and health-care facilities would be prohibited from making nurses work overtime.
The bill would also require hospitals and health-care facilities to meet or exceed minimum staffing requirements and would outlaw a registered nurse from working more than 18 consecutive hours.
The bill is pending in the House Health and Family Services Committee.
Currently, staffing and nurses' workloads are left to the discretion of the hospitals.
"Right now it's arbitrary," said Warino. "They don't look at the acuity of patients."
Youngstown strike: The issues are close to Warino. She's employed at Forum Health in Youngstown where 771 registered nurses have walked off the job, striking over mandatory overtime, staffing and pay issues.
Members of the Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association have been on the picket lines since May 1 at Northside, Tod and the Beeghly Medical Park. Forum's Trumbull County facilities have not been affected by the walkout.
Forum officials bused in 270 replacement nurses provided by an employment agency who are working with nursing supervisors, practical nurses and other staff to keep the hospitals operating.
Negotiators met this past Monday and are to meet again Friday.
Surprise state visit: Meanwhile, an Ohio Department of Health surveyor determined that Forum Health is providing safe, quality care at Northside Medical Center and Tod Children's Hospital despite the strike.
Cheryl Lufitz, a department spokeswoman, said the surveyor made an unannounced visit to the facilities Wednesday to interview patients and staff and to observe hospital operations.
"The surveyor determined that the quality of care was not compromised," she said.
Lufitz said it is standard procedure for the department of health to survey hospitals when there is a work stoppage.
If problems are discovered, a more comprehensive survey is completed, but officials determined that won't be necessary for the Forum facilities, she said.
At the Statehouse, talk centered on the nurses' workloads.
Speaking to the crowd of several hundred, Womer Benjamin acknowledged what she said are the difficult working conditions some nurses endure. "... and then you're asked to work even more," she said.
Many nurses in the crowd spoke of their experiences on the job.
"We find ourselves more and more faced with decreasing staff and more responsibility," said Lyn Benedict, president of the Summit and Portage County districts of the Ohio Nurses Association.
Frequently, nurses are expected to work several hours beyond their shifts, said Johanna Edwards, a staff nurse at Akron General Medical Center.
"This is a real concern," Edwards said. " It's not safe for the patient. It's not safe for the nurse."
"In other professions, you have a limit," said Nanci Passella, an employee at Forum Health.
XContributor: Vindicator business writer Cynthia Vinarsky.