House Labor & Industry Committee hosts nurses to address nursing workforce crisis

HARRISBURG, May 7 – The week of May 6-12 being “National Nurses Week,” the Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry Committee held an informational meeting today to discuss the causes of, and solutions to, the nursing workforce crisis in Pennsylvania.

The committee invited nurses from across the commonwealth to testify from their personal experience and expertise to the causes of the workforce crisis in healthcare.

“The problem is the working conditions. Between unacceptable staffing levels and escalations in workplace violence, nurses are finding other things to do with their licenses or taking early retirement,” Maureen May, RN at Temple University Hospital, said. “We have the nurses in PA, but they're sitting on the sidelines. They don’t want to subject themselves to moral injury and risk their license or personal injury, so they have decided to do other things. We can get them back to the bedside – but for that to happen, the working conditions must improve.”

“I am saddened to say that, since UPMC took us over ten years ago, Altoona has become a shell of what it used to be. We’ve watched our hospital’s priorities go from a focus on patients to a focus solely on numbers,” Jamie Balsamo, RN at UPMC Altoona. “I’m an example of the burnout and mass exodus away from the bedside that is plaguing our healthcare workforce. For the past three years, I worked in the intensive care unit, which is where my passion lies. But just four months ago, I transferred out of the ICU to the cardiac catheter lab in order to avoid leaving Altoona altogether. I just couldn’t survive a minute longer in the ICU due to the working conditions, and I could no longer ethically accept the risks that my patients were facing.”

“When I started in nursing, I expected stressful situations. Over the past three decades, however, healthcare has gone from stressful to traumatizing as corporatized healthcare has taken over. Big corporations’ relentless push toward consolidation of market power, decimating frontline staffing, suppressing wages and excluding frontline healthcare workers’ voices from patient care decisions, has created traumatizing conditions for both patients and nurses,” Michelle Boyle, RN at Allegheny General Hospital, said. “We need legislative and protective standards, like the Patient Safety Act, to hold the corporate healthcare systems accountable. And we need elected officials to step up to ensure that more nurses and healthcare workers have the ability to organize and bargain for better standards in their hospitals and nursing homes for their patients and themselves.”

“For several years we have heard about a nursing shortage. That is a misnomer. Rather, there is a workforce crisis. Specifically, thousands of highly qualified and experienced clinical nurses are leaving the bedside. They leave instead of subjecting themselves to the continued overexertion and the stressful and unrealistic situations that make up today's bedside nursing experience,” Davey Scher, RN and representative of the PA State Nurses Association, said. “If hospitals want more bedside nurses, which is what the data shows they do indeed want, then the onus is on those hospitals to ensure a safe clinical work environment to attract and recruit nurses, and to bring them back to the bedside. It truly is that simple.”

In a voting meeting prior to the informational meeting, the committee approved legislation (H.B. 2247) introduced by state Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-Delaware, which would create the Healthcare Workplace Violence Prevention Act to ensure that healthcare workers in Pennsylvania are afforded a safe, violence free workplace where they can work and perform their duties without the fear of bodily harm or fear for their personal safety.

“In response to the nursing workforce crisis, there has been much focus on addressing the pipeline, but today’s testimony highlighted the importance of retaining qualified nurses at the bedside,” state Rep. Jason Dawkins, majority chair of the House Labor and Industry Committee, said. “We must take action to secure stronger labor protections and safer working conditions for our nurses and healthcare professionals.”

The meeting can be viewed in its entirety here.