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Local nursing strike demands thoughtful legislative action



Published: Mon, May 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



State Sen. Timothy J. Ryan should consider the ramifications of his actions before he proceeds with legislation that would ban health care facilities from mandating overtime and that would prohibit nurses from working more than 18 hours a day.

We can understand Ryan's eagerness to do something for the striking nurses at Forum Health, but his legislative initiative could undermine patient care across the state. The freshman senator must know that Forum and other health care companies are not forcing their nurses to work overtime just to be disagreeable or to punish them.

It is foolhardy to believe that any employer would deliberately do something to foment labor strife. Thus, the question must be asked: Why are nurses having to work so many long hours?

The answer can be found on the front page of last Monday's Vindicator in a story headlined, "5-nation survey shows nurses' dissatisfaction." According to the story, an international survey of nurses has found that working conditions and patient care are contributing to widespread dissatisfaction that transcends national borders.

Flaw: But it is the following paragraph that Ryan and state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, R-Aurora, the original sponsor of the nursing staffing bill, should heed: "The results [of the survey] come at a time when many hospitals are struggling to attract nurses, and reveal what researchers believe is a 'fundamental flaw' in the design of patient care and management of hospital workers."

It is simplistic to suggest that the solution to what ails the nursing industry is a law that, in effect, would hinder health-care facilities from providing proper patient care. We are well aware that when nurses are required to work many hours, the level of care does suffer, but we aren't convinced that Ryan's proposal is the answer.

The legislator's time would be better spent formulating a plan of action to increase the number of nurses in Ohio so Forum Health and other health-care facilities aren't forced to fall back on such extreme measures as mandatory overtime.

Indeed, Ohio Auditor James Petro, in his performance assessment of Youngstown State University, deals with the very issue in recommending that YSU develop "win-win partnerships with private and public sector employers."

Training: Here's what Petro has to say about nursing: "St. Elizabeth Hospital needs many more nurses each year than YSU graduates. Existing hospital personnel require periodic in-service training that could be provided, possibly via distance learning technology, to these personnel at the hospital's and its employees' convenience."

Money: Sen. Ryan should take the initiative and invite officials of YSU, St. Elizabeth Health Center and Forum Health to discuss how the school of nursing can help meet the needs of the hospitals. The senator will undoubtedly be told that money is a major issue when it comes to expanding programs on campus, so he should be prepared to work with other members of the Mahoning Valley's legislative delegation to seek state funding.




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