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Nurses to rally for staffing law

BEMIDJI – The union representing Minnesota nurses is renewing its push for a minimum staffing law in hospitals.  

The Minnesota Nurses Association is holding a rally today in Thief River Falls with nurses from the area, including Bemidji and Bagley, to attract attention to what they say is a patient safety issue.

Almost a third of 400 MNA members and 400 residents surveyed last year by a research firm said they had a shift with inadequate staffing in a hospital at least once a week, according to survey results provided by the MNA. More than a quarter of respondents said hospital management told them to “make do” when told of the inadequate staffing levels.

Bernadine Engeldorf, a registered nurse and first vice president of the MNA, said hospitals currently use some standards for determining proper staffing levels. But the MNA, she said, is looking for accountability through legislation to make sure they follow staffing standards.

“We believe we need a law,” Engeldorf said. “I have a license to practice my nursing and that’s regulated by state law. It sets standards for the way I practice and we believe that we have the right to demand hospitals play by the same rules.”

The legislation will be similar to a bill introduced last year, which didn’t make it out of committee.

Former Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, co-authored a bill called the “2012 Staffing for Patient Safety Act” during last year’s legislative session. That law would have set a maximum patient assignment for registered nurses depending on a number of factors.

Rick Fuentes, a spokesman for the Nurses Association, said sponsors for this year’s legislation have been secured, but he didn’t name the legislators. He said it will be introduced in the first week of the session, which begins Tuesday.

The Minnesota Hospital Association opposed last year’s legislation.

“Hospitals and nurses both share the same goal of providing safe care to our patients,” said MHA spokeswoman Wendy Burt. “We do differ on some aspects on how to get there.”

She said staffing level decisions shouldn’t be in the hands of legislators, but rather left to nurses and hospital staff. Burt added that Minnesota is already ranked high in terms of hospital safety.

“It’s a one-sized approach that actually moves decisions away from nurses at a local level,” Burt said. “And it is not going to improve patient safety.”

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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