Hundreds of unionized nurses, healthcare workers, community advocates and elected officials gathered in Trenton to urge Governor Phil Murphy and legislative leaders to pass and sign NJ-S304/ A-4536 – which will mandate enforceable staffing ratios in every hospital in New Jersey.
The problem of understaffing has existed for decades but now has reached a point where our healthcare system is in crisis. In study after study, short staffing has been shown to compromise patient care and safety, as well as nurse safety. Every healthcare worker and every patient feels the pain of short staffing.
HPAE President Debbie White, RN, told nurses and advocates at the May 11, 2023 “Rally for Safe Staffing” that burnout brought on by stress from unsafe working conditions at New Jersey hospitals is forcing dedicated frontline healthcare workers to migrate out of hospital bedside care at an alarming rate.
“The staffing crisis in hospitals started well before the pandemic; it was created years ago by the hospitals themselves,” said Debbie White, RN, HPAE President. “For decades, staffing has been a line item in a budget, cut to its lowest number to maximize profits. During the pandemic, an already stressed-out workforce migrated out of hospitals in enormous numbers. Now, hospitals simply cannot retain staff. Unless we ‘stop the bleed’ through safe staffing legislation, we will continue to see nurses migrate out of the profession. We must address retention, or we are effectively trying to fill with water, a bucket full of holes.”
At the rally, nurses and healthcare workers shared their first-hand experiences of how short staffing is causing the workforce to jettison their profession in record numbers. Almost one-third of registered nurses in New Jersey have left hospital bedside care over the last three years alone due to the staggering workload, untenable conditions and high stress.
“We’re calling on the legislature to listen to the essential workers and their constituents calling for them to take action on S-304, which establishes minimum staffing standards for hospitals and other healthcare facilities,” said New Jersey State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan. “Our nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system. But current staffing levels are threatening our healthcare system’s ability to provide the level of care we need, and it is taking its toll on already strained healthcare workers. Unfortunately, some hospitals are opposed to improving staffing ratios because they are choosing to prioritize profits, even as we reach a post-pandemic healthcare staffing crisis point. S-304 would establish the fair patient-to-nurse ratios we need to improve our healthcare system.”
“Enough is enough. How many more nurses do we need to lose from the bedside because they are overworked and stretched to their limits. How many patients should be put at increased risk because there simply aren’t enough nurses to care for them,” said Elfrieda Johnson, President of JNESO District Council 1 IUOE-AFL-CIO the professional health care union. “We need safe staffing ratios now, not in another 10 years. There is no excuse for continuing to push this issue on the back burner in the legislature when we know that safe staffing works for patients and nurses – patients deserve more and we need to stop the hemorrhaging of an already devastated workforce.”
“Our members along with all health care providers continue to be burdened and burned out due to short staffing,” said Grisel Anton, 1199J AFSCME Vice President. “It is time to do the right thing for those who care for us. Safe staffing now!”
“We often hear advocates and elected officials say health care is a human right,” said AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera. “That statement sets the floor, but AFTNJ also believes that quality health care is a human right. A quality health care system is not one based on a quantity-profit service model — it has to address physical and emotional needs. Our nurses are on the front lines providing those services, but in today’s system, the patient-nurse ratio makes sustained quality almost impossible. It is time for our legislators to pass a safe staffing bill, demonstrating they truly believe a quality health care system is a human right.”
“USW Local 4-200 supports safe staffing. It is the right thing for the patients and for staff,” said Judy Danella USW President, Local 4-200
“For nurses, it was about safe patient care 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 25 years ago, and it’s still about safe patient care, today,” said Gina Schlachter, RN Vice President, Shore Nurses Union/NYSNA. “Nurses, through the years, have been and always will be relentless in the pursuit of safe patient care for all patients. We want a law that establishes minimum registered professional nurse staffing standards. Safe staffing saves lives. More nurses equals better care.”
“I’ve been a nurse for many years. Safe staffing addresses the fundamental problem of nurses leaving the profession due to stress and burn out,” said Maria Rafinski, Former President and Co-Chair, NJNU CWA 1091. “We stand with every nurse in New Jersey pushing our legislators to pass safe staffing legislation to fix this crisis in healthcare,”
Concluding the event, Brianna Earle – Director of Public Engagement for Governor Phil Murphy – joined the rally to receive a large blown-up letter signed by hundreds of healthcare workers and advocates urging Governor Murphy to stand with us to bring safe staffing levels to New Jersey’s healthcare facilities, so every patient receives the care they need to improve their health.