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Michigan nurses push back against understaffing and mandatory overtime

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Does Michigan have a shortage of nurses?

That question is at the heart of a push by nurse advocates and some lawmakers for a state law that would set up mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios and prohibit hospitals from ordering nurses to work overtime.

Dawn Kettinger, the Government Affairs Director for the Michigan Nurses Association, and RN Katie Scott, a nurse of more than ten years, joined Stateside to share the struggle that nurses are having.


Listen above for the full conversation, or catch highlights below. 


On whether a nursing shortage in Michigan exists 


Kettinger said that whether there is or is not a nursing shortage in Michigan is a "complicated question." 


"What we really need to look at is: how are we doing on creating and retaining a strong nursing workforce?" Kettinger said. "So, the short answer is no, it's not a matter of not having enough nurses in Michigan. The big problem is that there's a shortage of nurses who are willing to work in the conditions that hospitals create." 


On the working conditions for nurses in hospitals 


Kettinger said that those conditions include "chronic understaffing and excessive hours of mandatory overtime." 


"A lot of people don't realize that there is no law that limits the number of patients a nurse can be assigned," she said. "So, your nurse could be taking care of two patients, could be taking care of eight. There's also no limit on the number of hours, so your nurse could be in the middle or end of an 18-hour shift. So, those are things that translate to a lot of danger for patients, and nurses, first and foremost, want to be able to go to work, take care of their patients, protect them from harm, and when that's not possible because of these unrealistic situations, nurses aren't going to stay and aren't going to work in hospitals." 


Kettinger said that there are limits on how long certain other professions can work, including airline pilots and truck drivers. In other words, professions that entail taking "other people's lives into their hands," she said. Nursing is not included on that list. 


On nursing burnout  


Scott said that nurses "definitely" suffer from burnout. 


"There are a large number of nurses who work one year and then decide they have to leave the bedside because it's too much," Scott said. "The expectations of what we have to do are being added on to every day, and they thought they were getting into nursing to be able to care for somebody when they're in this intensely vulnerable situation, and then they're being stretched so thin they're not able to do that. The amount of hours the nurses have to work becomes untenable for them." 


On the Safe Patient Care Act


The proposal has three parts: putting a limit on the nurse to patient ratio, limiting mandatory overtime, and requiring transparency from hospitals on staffing numbers, Kettinger said.


"We understand that overtime happens in a hospital. The problem is that overtime is being used as a staffing strategy. Too often, hospitals will just operate with bare bones staffing, and then if they need people, they'll just make their nurses stay. Too often, nurses are already working a 12-hour shift, you go to 14, 16, 18, you're essentially intoxicated in terms of the effect on your body, and nurses do not have the legal right to say no that that," Kettinger said.


"We want this Safe Patient Care Act not to protect ourselves as nurses," Scott said. "We want this Safe Patient Care Act to protect them as patients, and that's ultimately the most important thing." 

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