The Ohio House is scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill that could keep hospitals from requiring nurses to work overtime as a condition of employment.
On Wednesday, lawmakers elected Rep. Ryan Smith as the new speaker and the bill is on the agenda for a vote Thursday, the first session in nearly two months.
Hospitals across Ohio are facing a shortage of nursing staff and can require nurses to work longer hours and cover more shifts, but a nurses union said that creates dangerous conditions for patients who might get bad care from exhausted staff.
But the Ohio Hospital Association said staffing is complicated and hospitals need to have the flexibility to schedule the nurses they need at the times that they are needed.
The bill, if approved, could shake up the workforce landscape at the largest private employers in the region. Across Ohio, there are more than 200,000 registered nurses.
The hospital association said in a statement that the legislation “improperly assumes that all nurses share the same skill sets and are simply ‘interchangeable parts’ in the treatment of patients.”
“Hospitals must have the flexibility to respond to the dynamic state of patient needs and must focus on a variety of factors when determining staffing levels, while always keeping patient safety at the core of those decisions,” the association said.
The association said some of those factors include patient needs, volume, and acuity, patient satisfaction, resources available, nursing staff competency and skill mix, availability of medical and support staff and a variety of staffing standards.
“Staffing a hospital is a complex process that continually changes based on community health and patient needs … Prohibiting overtime as presented in this proposed legislation restricts hospitals’ ability to adjust to the needs of their patients,” the hospital association said.
House Bill 456 was introduced by Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, on Dec. 29.
Sprague said he’s had conversations with exhausted nurses who are worn down from being asked to work long hours as the population ages and strains the health care system.
He said he’s concerned that exhausted nurses required to work these long hours could lead to medical errors that could have been prevented.
“It’s a recipe for a problem,” he said.
The Ohio Nurses Association has been working toward the proposed legislation since 2015 and this is the biggest state legislation push the union expects to be involved in this year.
Lori Chovanak, CEO of the Ohio Nurses Association, said nurses typically work demanding 12 hour shifts multiple days in a row with sometimes no lunch breaks.
These nurses might be in no condition to safely continue to work but are fearful of losing their jobs or getting license infractions for not following orders stay past their shift.
Some might be able to stay when asked, others might not, but the proposed law could let them make that decision.
“It puts that decision making with the nurse who can do self assessment,” Chovanak said.
The bill would make Ohio the 19th state to make it illegal to force nurses to work beyond their regularly scheduled shift – a practice that can lead to unsafe patient care, Chovanak said.
The nurses union pointed to research indicating increased medication errors, patient falls and patient morbidity when nurses work lengthy shifts.
“We want to be able to provide safe, confident care to our patients,” Chovanak said.
She said hospitals sometimes can anticipate an influx of patients, so there are elements of the bill that let hospitals staff for emergency situations.