NEW YORK NURSE: December 2010
by Erin Silk
The 2011 legislative session is poised to present the same hurdles as last year: a massive budget deficit and a struggle for power in the state Senate will likely equal tough legislative battles. But unlike last year, a change in gubernatorial leadership and a renewed commitment to implementing the Affordable Care Act could help move nursing’s legislative agenda forward.
While these are hopeful factors to consider, the Executive State Budget will again be the overarching issue as the state’s projected deficit looms at $10 billion. “That’s a billion more than last year’s deficit and it’s a number that continues to grow each year,” said Shaun Flynn, NYSNA’s director of governmental affairs. This astronomical figure is due in part to matching funds of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) and other federal monies for education due to expire this year. “Medicaid spending continues to grow twice as fast as state revenue growth, putting more pressure on an already extremely tight budget,” Flynn said.
Current court challenges notwithstanding, it appears that the Republicans have re-captured the Senate and will hold a razor thin 32-30 seat majority. “Without a solid majority, legislators may be more hesitant in their voting, making lobbying for legislation all the more difficult,” Flynn said. NYSNA expects the legislature to make significant cuts as Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has already pledged to confront the state’s fiscal crisis head on.
While the Governor-elect has not yet made his vision for health care known, his recent appointment of NYSNA President Karen Ballard to his transition team signals the inclusion of New York’s nurses in the healthcare debate. “As the state’s largest professional association for nurses, we appreciate the opportunity to provide input regarding patient care in New York State,” Ballard said.
However challenging the 2011 legislative session, NYSNA will maintain a strong presence with lawmakers and continue to lobby for our top legislative priorities for nursing.
Significant strides were made in 2010 with regards to the Educational Advancement for Nurses bill and NYSNA hopes to use that momentum to push for the bill’s passing in 2011. Flynn also points to the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) recent report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, as support for nursing educational advancement, stating that “it solidifies an already strong argument for increased educational requirements for New York’s nurses.”
A related nursing education issue is funding for the Senator Patricia McGee Nursing Faculty Scholarship Program which has not yet been reauthorized through 2015. The scholarship was included in the overall education budget that the governor vetoed. A scheduled vote on the education budget did not happen during the legislature’s Nov. 29 special session, leaving the program currently without access to funding. NYSNA will push for a stand-alone bill to reauthorize spending for the scholarship. “Everyone wants the Pat McGee Scholarship to continue – lawmakers know it is a necessary component to easing the nursing shortage – the problem lies with authorization that hinges on the budget,” Flynn said.
Minimum requirements for safe nurse-to-patient ratios remains a top priority for NYSNA. Facilities contend that slashed Medicaid budgets won’t allow for additional hires, yet California, a state with similar financial woes, has managed to implement increased nurse ratios across the board. NYSNA will continue its push to protect the public and keep skilled nurses from leaving the profession due to employee burnout or injury resulting from inadequate numbers of nursing staff.
Nurses know that safe patient handling not only improves healthcare outcomes, but also saves precious dollars lost when injured nurses cannot work. Hospitals worry about the upfront costs of these programs and are hesitant to implement them. NYSNA will work to demonstrate to lawmakers that in the long run, safe patient handling programs are an excellent way to rein in long-term healthcare costs by creating a safer environment for both patients and caregivers.
The recent enactment of the Violence Against Nurses law ensures that if nurses are assaulted on the job in New York State, the attacker can be charged with a felony. To follow-up this important law, NYSNA will lobby to expose another factor of a hostile workplace environment – bullying. Bullying has become increasingly evident in our society and nurses have been dealing with it in the workplace for years. The Workplace Bullying bill will address the acts of hostility, fear tactics, and other forms of bullying that take away from patient care.
Each year there is work to be continued to move the nursing profession forward. You can get involved! Plan to attend NYSNA’s annual Lobby Day on April 12 to make sure your voice is heard by lawmakers.