End Mandatory Overtime for Nurses

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From Stephanie Bloomingdale of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. An idea whose time is way past. Bloomingdale is a member of OWN’s board of directors.

Senator Judy Robson and Representative Sandra Pasch, both registered nurses, announced legislation to ban mandatory overtime for nurses and health care workers. The Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals urge lawmakers to support this legislation.
The problem:

Nurses are routinely forced to work beyond the end of their shift, sometimes for up to 16 hours in a row. Forcing tired nurses, on often short notice, to work beyond their shift is unsafe for patients. Tired caregivers are more likely to make medical mistakes such as medication errors.Hospitals have not on their own voluntarily banned mandatory overtime. Instead, some hospitals have attempted to soften the language they use to identify forced overtime—calling it ‘€œessential overtime’€ or ‘€œrequired overtime.’€ No matter what label is used, nurses forced to work beyond their shift is unsafe for patients and caregivers alike.

Mandatory overtime is widespread. According to a 2008 WFNHP survey of nurses: 42% of the nurses said they had been forced to work mandatory overtime at least once a month, with 12% being mandated once a week.

Hospitals do not share data about mandatory overtime with patients or the public. Hospitals should give the best care possible to every patient all the time. Spikes in patient numbers are expected and should be planned for responsibly. Simply forcing already tired nurses to keep working unlimited hours is not responsible management.

The solution:
Pass legislation to ban the unsafe use of mandatory overtime in Wisconsin’€™s hospitals and health care facilities. The legislation allows mandatory overtime to be used in cases of unforeseen emergencies such as debilitating snow storms or terrorist attacks.

Hospital administrators who rely on mandatory overtime to staff their hospitals should learn from hospitals where mandatory overtime is never used. By sharing best practices hospitals will improve patient safety. When mandatory overtime is no longer an easy option, administrators will have to use trusted mechanisms such as hiring nurses, adequately staffing all shifts, and utilizing staffing pools, as they have in the fifteen other states that already passed legislation to limit the use of mandatory overtime.

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Scot Ross served as Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now & the Institute from 2007 to 2019.