Mandatory Overtime for Nurses Now Banned in Pa.

Mandatory Overtime for Nurses Now Banned in Pa.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

July 09, 2009

There were no parades or fireworks Wednesday, but July 1 was the independence day that so many nurses and hospital caregivers had hoped and battled for. Among those many was Lois Cusick of Mt. Lebanon, who has worked at UPMC’s Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic for 26 years.

She, and all other nurses and caregivers in the state, are now largely immune from management requests to work “mandatory overtime,” the extra hours, nurses say, that frequently were tacked on the end of already long hospital shifts, jeopardizing patient care and making it tough to keep quality nurses.

“This is a huge win. I’ve been a nurse for 30 years. I raised three children doing in-patient nursing,” Ms. Cusick said. “There were so many times I couldn’t go home at the end of my work shift.”

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For much of the decade, nurses and the Service Employees International Union have been lobbying for a change in state law that would restrict hospitals’ ability to force nurses and support staff to work overtime hours. Fourteen other states have similar laws and regulations on the books.

Pennsylvania’s law was signed by the governor last fall, and went into effect on Wednesday. “Seven years we’ve been fighting for this,” said Deb Bonn, director of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Pennsylvania

Now, “when they go to work in the morning, they know what time they are getting out.”

It’s not just a vague quality-of-life issue — uncertainty over hours is a major reason that nurses leave the field, many say. In Pennsylvania, nurses must re-register for nursing licenses every two years, and each time they do so, they must fill out a survey that asks about job satisfaction (and dissatisfaction). Every year, the unpredictable overtime hours, compounded by lack of staffing, are high on the list of issues that push nurses out of the health-care industry.

“It’s critical,” said Cathy Stoddard, a longtime nurse at Allegheny General Hospital, which hasn’t imposed mandatory overtime upon its union workforce for six years. “You don’t want the person taking care of you to be so exhausted that they’re making mistakes.”

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