1199SEIU Billboard Tells NYS Legislators: Make the Workplace Safer for Healthcare Workers

May 22, 2014

Earlier this year, long-awaited “Safe Patient Handling” legislation was finally signed into New York State law. Although an important victory for nurses and their patients, there is still more work to be done to ensure safe working conditions for caregivers in hospitals, nursing homes and in the community. To that end, if you are traveling north toward the state Capitol on I-787 in Albany, you will see a new 1199SEIU billboard saying, “Support Legislation to Protect Us from Workplace Violence.”

1199SEIU members are supporting bill A.1498A/S.1089A, which would extend protections from workplace violence to all healthcare workers. Healthcare facilities have the highest rate of injury due to violence of any type of workplace, ranging from a high of 78.8 injuries per 10,000 workers at psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals to 18 injuries per 10,000 workers at nursing homes, according to a 2012 US Department of Labor study.

Current law protects nurses and emergency medical technicians, but it does not safeguard patient care techs, therapists, certified nursing assistants, and others – all exposed to the same levels of violence. Healthcare workers are suffering as a result of these assaults. In a recent study, every fourth nursing home worker and 34 percent of nursing aides reported persistent workplace assault. Exposure to workplace violence is associated with decreased work satisfaction, higher staff turnover and increased absenteeism.

Studies also indicate a direct correlation between the level of violence against nurses and understaffing at their facilities. That is why 1199SEIU nurses joined their colleagues from the New York State Nurses Association and other unions that represent healthcare workers to talk to state legislators about another important piece of pending legislation, “The Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act.” JoAnne Amsterdam, an RN at Jamaica Hospital in Queens, said, “When we are understaffed our patients suffer and we suffer. If it is a not a safe environment for nurses and patients, nurses leave their jobs, there is a higher nurse turnover rate, and then understaffing is the problem once again. It is a vicious cycle that lawmakers need to pay attention to.”

Shallynette Depusoir, an RN at St. Barnabas in the Bronx, said, “These issues are all interconnected and they need to be addressed by the legislature. It’s not like these health and safety concerns happen just one day a month or one day a week. It’s every single day and it’s exhausting – caregivers and patients are at risk – that’s not good for anyone. I’m telling the legislators to pass the “Workplace Violence Act” immediately.