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Overworked nurses must be allowed to refuse more patients, House lawmaker proposes

Nurses in acute care settings could refuse larger workloads and be protected from retaliation for doing so under a bill approved Thursday by the House Health Finance and Policy Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Sandra Feist (DFL-New Brighton), HF4200 would forbid health care facilities from firing, disciplining, or retaliating against direct care employees who refuse to attend to more patients if they believe that doing so would put patients in danger.

On a vote of 11-8, the committee referred the bill — termed the “Health Care Employee Anti-Retaliation and Labor Act” — to the House Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee.

“As the number of patients per care team increases, so do higher rates of negative outcomes such as pneumonia, shock, cardiac arrest, or urinary tract infections,” said Elaina Hane, interim executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “Yet, shift after shift, as workers appeal to hospital leaders for help with seriously unsafe staffing, they’re often met with indifference at best.”

Nurses are obligated to declare when a situation is unsafe, Feist said. However, some experience retaliation, such as verbal abuse or a disciplinary process, or are sent home. Subsequently, health care facilities sometimes assign more patients to each nurse. The bill would provide labor protections for nurses and shift problem solving to management, she added.

Mayo Clinic, Minnesota Business Partnership, and MedicalAlley representatives submitted written testimony expressing concern about the bill. The AFL-CIO wrote of its support.

“This bill creates significant opportunity for individual bias to determine who receives care in our hospital,” said Adam Karlen, vice president/chief nursing officer at M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital. As a member of the LBGTQ community, he said the bill could affect his care.

This bill would not apply to nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities, or licensed boarding care homes.

However, Rep. Danny Nadeau (R-Rogers) said the bill would apply to all state facilities. Feist said she would ensure the language is explicit to limit confusion.

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