N.Y. Nurses Seek Decade-Long End To Battle Against Mandatory Overtime


ALBANY (ASRN.ORG) - New York's Capital, Albany, has been under protest this month by over 700 hundred nurses, including representatives of five unions, asking that bills in the Legislature be moved to the floor for a vote.  The proposed legislation would bar hospitals from forcing nurses to work overtime, while allowing those who want to work overtime be able to continue to do so.

The danger is having tired nurses working 16 hours straight.  According to the Mellenium Research Group, medical errors are the fifth-leading cause of deaths in the US, with up to 98,000 deaths annually.  And a recent survey by Alertness Solutions in Cupertino, CA shows that over 55% of nurses have problems with insomnia or staying asleep.

Long hours and fatigue among nurses can contribute to errors.  And the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations was even more direct in a 2002 report:  that a shortage of nurses is a factor in about one-fourth of patient injuries or deaths in hospitals.

Nurses say hospitals should hire enough staff to make sure enough nurses are available.  But hospitals say the nursing shortage makes that difficult.

New York has 237,000 registered nurses in the state, but many hospitals are increasingly finding it impossible to keep a full staff due to nurses retiring or leaving the profession.

National nurse turnover is now at 14%, an all-time high.

Jane Ehrlich, president of Columbia Memorial in Hudson, says, "we'd love to not have mandatory overtime.  It's the last thing we want.  There simply aren't enough nurses."

According to most hospital policies, first are the "per diem" or substitute list of nurses, if there's a hole in the scheduling. 
Second, hospitals look to "volunteers."  Only as a last and final resort, will they begin the mandatory overtime.

However, one RN sarcastically says that, "Some nurses are mandated weekly."

Another nurse describes working a 20-hour shift.  "At the end of the day, I can't remember what I'm supposed to be doing.  That can't be a healthy situation."

Union leaders and nurses point out that at least 11 states, including California, Connecticut, Texas and Maryland, have prohibited mandatory overtime and a dozen others are considering the idea. "Many of those states have a greater nursing shortage than New York,"the nurses say.

Yet others point out that New York has 69,000 licensed RNs in the state not practicing nursing.   "We do have a severe nursing shortage, and this is one of the reasons.”

One 25 year RN said, "nurses finishing their training and looking for jobs would be drawn to New York if they knew they couldn’t be forced to work back-to-back shifts on a regular basis."


Mandatory Overtime Bill (A1898A/S125) was passed by the New York State Assembly and is presently waiting for the New York State Senate to take action.

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Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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