No More Mandatory Overtime for Texas Nurses
September 03, 2009
Hospitals in Texas can no longer require registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses to work mandatory overtime.
The law, which went into effect Tuesday, makes Texas the 15th state to prohibit the practice of forcing nurses to work longer than their scheduled shifts.
“It’s very, very important for patient safety,” said Fernando Losada, state director of the National Nurses Organizing Committee Texas in Austin. The group is part of the California Nurses Association, a union which lobbied legislators for the law.
Nurses typically work 12-hour shifts, he said, and it’s common for managers to tell nurses to come in early or stay when their shift is scheduled to end. Sometimes it’s just an hour or two, but more likely it’s an extra four to six to eight hours, he said.
It’s a way for understaffed hospitals to make sure they have enough employees on duty in case someone calls in sick, he said.
It’s also a quality of life issue for nurses, said Jim Willmann, general counsel and director of governmental affairs for the Texas Nurses Association in Austin, which also supported the legislation.
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Staffing and overtime
The law also strengthens a rule set by the Texas Department of State Health Services in 2002 that hospitals cannot staff their facilities based on mandatory overtime, Willmann said.
“It’s always been a problem,” he said, because of the shortage of nurses. However, many hospitals are reluctant to force their nurses to work overtime because it creates a less-than-desirable work environment.
“None of us like to be told at noon that we have to work another four hours or half a shift,” he said.
Originally, the bill would have also included nursing homes and home health agencies, he said. But those nurses work a variety of shifts and were dropped from the legislation. In future years the association will try to extend the mandatory overtime rule to those practice settings, Willmann said.
Expects few changes
Tangula Taylor, director of nursing at Texas Children’s Hospital, doesn’t expect much to change.
The hospital has what it calls a “float pool” to provide supplemental staffing, she said. When a nurse can’t come in for a scheduled shift, a floater is assigned. Also, nurse educators and nurse managers can cover a shift if necessary, Taylor said.
There are exceptions, she said, like when nurses can’t trade off safely during an operation. There are also provisions for natural disasters like hurricanes or extraordinary emergencies like a big train wreck.
In those cases, Taylor is ready for action herself. A registered nurse, she has a pair of scrubs next to her desk.
But Taylor said, “I haven’t had to step in for a long time.”
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