Massachusetts nurses praise overtime ban

Massachusetts nurses commended House and Senate legislators for including an overtime ban in its health care cost-reduction bill.

Members of the state legislature revealed a proposal that would reportedly save up to $200 billion in health care costs over the next 15 years and help guarantee the future of the state's health care law.

Embedded in the law is a provision that prohibits hospitals from working mandatory overtime unless it's an emergency situation where the patient safety requires it and when there is no alternative. Nurses can't work beyond 16 consecutive hours in 24-hour period.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United says the measure will protect patients and save money by preventing mistakes, errors and complications resulting from RNs being forced to worked excessive hours. 

The association represents 23,000 members.

The universal health care law, enacted in Massachusetts in 2006, has ensured that almost all residents have health insurance. While the rest of the country tackles an 18 percent or higher uninsured rate, the state has averaged slightly more than 6 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

On top of the influx of insured, nurses have been dealing with reduced staff and expense cuts. The Massachusetts Hospital Association reports that hospitals had to cut more than 1,000 positions in 2008.

It's not just the nurses that suffer. The Massachusetts Nurses Association cites an Institute of Medicine report that linked mandatory overtime and the understaffing of nurses to thousands of patient deaths each year, and called for an all out prohibition of the practice. 

"This is a landmark achievement in our state's efforts to control costs, while maintaining safe, quality patient care," said Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, president of the MNA/NNU.  "Forcing nurses to work when they are exhausted endangers patients and leads to costly, preventable medical errors and complications.  The practice of mandatory overtime is indefensible by any patient safety standard, and yet hospitals continue to increase their use of this practice. This legislation will put an end to that." 

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