Minnesota nurses union, hospital association spar over complaints of staffing shortages

Nurses represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association are increasingly reporting instances of staffing shortages at the state's hospitals, according to an annual report published by the MNA, but a group representing state hospital contends the filings are just a ploy to get lawmakers to enact nurse staffing quotas.

The report, released July 12, examined the Concern for Safe Staffing forms filed by MNA-represented nurses in hospital settings in 2017. The forms allow nurses to express concerns with short-staffing, defined by the union as "when there are not enough nursing staff scheduled or available to care for patients on a specific hospital unit at one time." The forms include nearly 20 categories.

The union's analysis found the number of forms filed increased by 1.8 percent from 2016 to 2017. Last year, nurses filed 3,054 forms, up from 2,741 in 2015 and 3,000 in 2016. The most commonly reported categories in 2017 included "delays in care or treatment or incomplete assessments" (reported on forms 2,105 times), and "inability to answer patient call lights" (reported on forms 1,510 times), according to the analysis. Other incidents nurses reported last year included a shift being short-staffed by 25 percent or more (349 instances), as well as patients not getting their scheduled medication when they were supposed to (823 times).

"At a minimum, Minnesota patients deserve to be protected when they enter the hospital. Minnesota needs to set a minimum number of nurses that will be scheduled to work every day and every shift to ensure patients are cared for safely and properly," the union wrote.

In response to the union report, Minnesota Hospital Association spokesperson Wendy Burt  told Becker's Hospital Review: "First, it is important to know that the MNA represents only about 18 percent of nurses in Minnesota, [including those outside the hospital setting]. The union urges its members to fill out as many of these forms as possible so they can be used as a political prop in the union's attempt to convince legislators to enact a nurse staffing quota."

Ms. Burt added that the forms don't satisfy nurses' reporting obligations under state law, which requires them to contact Minnesota's Office of Health Facilities Complaints when there are "instances in which the delegation of a nursing function could reasonably be expected to result in unsafe or ineffective patient care."

The hospital association encourages all employees to "speak up immediately and report any patient safety concerns to their supervisors in real time," Ms. Burt said.

Three years ago the hospital association reviewed copies of the forms that union members filled out and found they were not actionable, Ms. Burt said.


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