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New State Law Gives New York Nurses More Say In Staffing Decisions

SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) - As the chief nursing officer at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, Kristen Cumoletti is ultimately accountable for choosing how many nurses are assigned to a shift and their individual patient-load. Yet, most often that decision has already been made.

"We have daily reviews of what the patients need and that is definitely based on the input from staff and staffing committees that are comprised of bedside and frontline staff and caregivers,” Cumoletti said.

New York lawmakers hope to expand this model across the state. By next July, all general hospitals must establish clinical staffing committees made up of nurses, ancillary staff members who provide direct care, and hospital administrators. These groups will be charged with jointly developing plans that restrict how many patients are assigned to each nurse.

Suzanne Kiernan-Barnes, a registered nurse and membership chair of the New York State Nurses Association union, said this legislation is something they have been pushing for years.

"Our nurses have not had any input on safe staffing levels – we certainly have had our opinions, but we have never really been asked to share those,” Kiernan-Barnes said.

Lawmakers and hospital staff alike say this act made its way through the New York State Legislature because it was impossible to ignore the understaffing issues at play during the pandemic. This new law will not only require hospitals to make these plans public but also enables the State Department of Health to issue penalties for violations.

Kiernan-Barnes said it will make a major difference for all.

"We, as nurses, have been trained to give quality care and staffing ratios that are safe and appropriate will give us a better opportunity to provide that quality care that is safer for patients,” she said.