HONOLULU >> A bill that would prohibit hospitals from enforcing mandatory overtime for nurses was revised by a House committee yesterday to instead require that nurses work no more than 16 hours at a time and get at least eight hours off between shifts.
bill toned down
Under the House measure,
nurses couldn't work
more than 16 straight hours
By B.J. Reyes
The measure taken up by the House Health Committee passed by an 8-0 vote, with two members absent, following more than 90 minutes of testimony from nurses and hospital management.
"It (mandatory overtime) should be an item that management and labor should be able to agree upon -- that would be our preferred avenue in terms of settling these kinds of differences," said Rep. Dennis Arakaki, the committee chairman. "The concern of the health committee is on patient safety and that's what our focus will be."
Mandatory overtime and its effect on employee and patient safety was among the sticking points in contract negotiations that led to strikes at three Hawaii hospitals.
The strikes at Queen's, St. Francis and Kuakini medical centers each lasted more than a month before agreements were reached earlier this month.
"I'm very disappointed, but I am glad the committee passed it out and hopefully we can continue to work on the bill," said Sharyn Stephani Monet, director of education and practice for the Hawaii Nurses Association union. "The hospitals say they don't use it (mandatory overtime) except in emergencies, but in fact what seems to be happening is it's being used to cover routine shortages."
Hospital officials testified against the measure, saying recently negotiated contracts already address the issue of mandatory overtime, adding that the unpredictable nature of health care often dictates staffing levels.
Rich Meiers, president of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, which represents the health care industry, said he was pleased that the discussion on mandatory overtime was moving forward with the committee's passage of the revised bill.
"It's a discussion that's been going on for years and will continue to go on for years because we've got to do what's right for the patients," Meiers said.
In his testimony, Meiers suggested that lawmakers instead focus on addressing the state's nursing shortage by providing loans and scholarships to those interested in pursuing a nursing career.
Arakaki, D-Alewa Heights-Kalihi, agreed.
"That's the other piece of the problem," he said. "We need to recruit more nurses to be available so that they're not caught in this situation."
In revising the bill, the Health Committee retained a provision that would waive the shift requirements in the event of a federal, state or county emergency.
The bill, which now goes to the House Labor Committee, would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2006, a provision that Arakaki said would provide ample time to further discuss the issue.
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