Nurses want legislative action, not more gestures

Boston Statehouse

Notes to medical personnel hang in an area as nurses prepare to ender a COVID-19 unit at Starr County Memorial Hospital in Rio Grande City, Texas. As the coronavirus pandemic surges across the nation and infections and hospitalizations rise, medical administrators are scrambling to find enough nursing help — especially in rural areas and at small hospitals. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

BOSTON (SHNS) – Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association on Thursday kicked off National Nurses Week with what union President Katie Murphy described as a stop on their “no cupcake tour.”

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Murphy, an intensive care unit nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said that rather than treats and other tokens, nurses want to see legislative action that will improve conditions for them and their patients.

“This year, what nurses really want is not pizza or flowers or accolades,” she said at an event outside of the State House. “What we would like you to celebrate National Nurses Week with is safe staffing, with workplace violence prevention, with occupational presumption and with the protection of essential services.”

The MNA’s legislative agenda includes bills calling for independent studies on the state of nursing in Massachusetts (S 1422/H 2398), requiring health care employers to create workplace violence prevention programs (S 1605/H 2465) and establishing a presumption that any frontline health care worker who contracts COVID-19 did so at work (S 1194/H 2031).

Rep. Denise Garlick, a past MNA president, filed the workplace violence prevention bill with Sen. Joan Lovely.

“Workplace violence has long been prevalent in the health care arena for a variety of reasons, all exacerbated by the COVID virus,” said Garlick, a Needham Democrat. “All the stress, all the tension, all the mental health issues, all the behavioral health issues are exacerbated by this COVID virus, and we are seeing violence in our health care organizations.”

Garlick acknowledged that supporters have been trying to pass that legislation for “many years” — last session, House and Senate versions won endorsements from the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and then died in the Health Care Financing Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee, respectively.

Lovely and Garlick’s bills are back before the Public Safety Committee this term.

The nurses’ union on Thursday also released findings from its annual State of Nursing in Massachusetts survey, in which 57 percent of respondents reported encountering at least one instance of workplace violence or abuse in the past two years.

The survey of 503 registered nurses was conducted by Beacon Research from March 25-30. Fifty-eight percent of the nurses interviewed were not MNA members.

Murphy characterized the findings as “very concerning,” noting that 55 percent of respondents said the quality of care has gotten worse in the past two years.

Thirty-three percent of respondents reported feeling “very safe” in their workplace, a level the union said is lower than any other time in the past four years.

Seventeen percent of surveyed nurses said they had contracted COVID-19, and about three-quarters of that group believe they caught the virus while at work.

Almost all the nurses — 92 percent — said they felt supported by their co-workers, and the same percentage said their family and friends supported them. Sixty percent said they felt supported by Gov. Charlie Baker, 58 percent by their employers, 46 percent by the MNA, 39 percent by the state Legislature, and 37 percent by the hospital industry.

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