Top NYC Hospitals Address Nursing Staffing Shortage, Could Set National Trend

The need for registered nurses is expected to grow by 15% from 2016 to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Similarly, the need for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) is projected to grow by 12% and nursing assistants by 11% over the same period. With an aging baby boomer population and growing emphasis on preventative care, the health care industry is struggling to keep up with the demand for nursing while nurses unions throughout the country have been pressing for rules setting minimum staffing levels, arguing that too few nurses leave patients at risk.

The nursing staffing shortage came to a head in Manhattan this month as more than 10,000 nurses threatened to walk off their jobs at three of the city’s biggest hospital systems. To avert a strike, the New York State Nurses Association negotiated a groundbreaking agreement with the hospitals that would lead to the hiring of 1,450 additional nurses and for the first time establishes minimum ratios of nurses to patients.

According to an article in the New York Times, Anthony Ciampa, first vice president of the New York State Nurses Association, stated: “We now have a voice in the process and a real say and a real mechanism in which to challenge patterns of staffing shortages and to get those rectified.” Up to now, California has been the only state that requires minimum ratios of nurses to patients in hospitals. Voters in Massachusetts rejected the idea in a statewide referendum last fall.

The four-year contract, which still needs to be ratified by the union’s members, with the Mount Sinai, NewYork-Presbyterian, and Montefiore hospital systems, stipulates annual pay raises of three percent, filling about 800 vacant nursing jobs, and spending $25 million a year to hire additional nurses, according to the New York Times article.

The hospitals also agreed to settle disputes about staffing through an outside mediator, providing a forum for the nurses to air grievances about management’s compliance with the agreed-upon ratios.

“This is going to have a very positive impact, and it will be the trendsetter of the industry,” Mr. Ciampa said. “What we decide in these major city hospitals tends to set the framework for other hospitals.”

Indeed the agreement that took place in New York City may signal changes in nursing staffing throughout all sectors of health care, including the home health care segment. Home health care providers have been finding it more and more difficult to recruit and retain enough licensed nurses and professionals to care for their ever-increasing patient load. Some home health care providers are increasingly being more proactive in their nursing recruitment and retention strategy to meet client needs today and into the future. In addition, several states are taking steps to help close the staffing gap in nursing. For example, Texas is allowing more community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing. Other programs include federal student loan repayment programs and employer-based loans to encourage individuals to choose nursing as an occupation. See our related article on this topic for more information.

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