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Joliet nurses testify at hearing for state bill

Published: Thursday, April 17, 2014 11:24 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 7:24 a.m. CDT

JOLIET – Months into contract negotiations, union nurses and administrators at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center are still at odds, with a change to staffing ratios being the main sticking point.

The issue of nurse-to-patient staff ratios at the state level was the subject of a legislative hearing Wednesday in Chicago, where three Presence Saint Joseph nurses testified.

Representatives from the Illinois Nursing Association, Illinois Hospital Association and other groups also testified for or against House Bill 12, which would require hospitals to meet mandated nurse-to-patient ratios depending on the unit.

Victoria Hickey, a nurse at Presence St. Joseph, said she believes mandated patient-to-nurse ratios would improve patient care and the staff working environment.

“When a hospital is short-staffed, patient complications can happen,” she said. “A lot of times, that could be prevented with adequate staffing levels.”

She said the Joliet hospital’s intensive care unit typically has the adequate 2-to-1 patient-to-nurse ratio. But sometimes, because of staff breaks or other factors, one nurse could be handling three patients on his or her own at a time, Hickey said.

Currently, the Joliet hospital has staffing level guidelines, but those can be modified.

Officials from Presence Saint Joseph did not testify at the hearing. But hospital spokeswoman Lisa Lagger said, “Our patient care, our quality of care and our nursing care has repeatedly been recognized for its excellence.”

Danny Chun, spokesman for IHA, said such a mandate calls for a “rigid, static” formula that doesn’t allow for flexibility at the local level to set staffing to best match the needs of patients.

“If you don’t have enough nurses, you’d have to shut down the entire unit,” he said.

Presence Saint Joseph officials have previously said such mandated nurse-to-patient ratios, as seen in California, have not been proven to improve patient outcomes such as mortality rates and medication errors.

The issue at the local level picks up April 25 when union officials and hospital administration meet again at the bargaining table.

Both sides began bargaining in January. The last contract expired March 24.

Both sides also haven’t yet agreed on salary increases. Union officials want a 4 percent increase in pay per year over three years, while administrators are calling for a 2 percent increase.

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