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Nurses acquire 20K signatures

A group of nurses met with mixed reactions last week as they delivered 20,000 petition signatures to both Warren and Oil City offices of Senator Scott Hutchinson.

Even though they have yet to get access to Hutchinson’s ear, they intend to continue to voice their support for legislation that requires safe patient limits to protect patients and improve care. The petition represents the largest show of support for safe staffing legislation in state history.

The local deliveries were part of a statewide effort to push for movement on legislation currently sitting before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee — specifically Senate Bill 450. Hutchinson is a member of the committee.

The more-than-30-page bill includes ratios for nurse-patient care in licensed health care facilities and also addresses transparency in those numbers and protections for whistle-blowers who report issues. Currently, California is the only state with patient/nurse ratios regulated by law.

Senate Bill 450 has gained support in recent years with 25 of 50 senators cosponsoring the bill. Hutchinson has not yet shown support for the bill, according to information provided by nursesofpa.org, an organization supporting the legislation.

According to information provided by the organization, nurses delivering the petition to Hutchinson’s Warren office met with a staff representative who came back after hours specifically for that purpose. Warren office staff declined to comment except to acknowledge the petition was accepted.

The reception at the office in Oil City, however, was not quite as welcoming, according to a nurse on-site at the event.

Shelbie Stromyer has been a registered nurse for 30 years. She described herself as “disabled” because she can’t lift 200 pounds any more — a task she says is often expected of nurses. She said she spoke to an orthopedic doctor who claims to see more nurses than construction workers, especially when it comes to joint replacement procedures.

Stromyer said she and other nurses were in front of Hutchinson’s office in Oil City when they watched his staff lock the doors and turn off the lights. “I wasn’t surprised when it happened,” she said. “We tried to call for an appointment and were refused.”

The reception may not have surprised her but she did express disappointment in what she witnessed. “We’re his constituents,” she said.

Staff at the Oil City office said they were not notified that the nurses were coming. They said the office was open during normal operating hours and the doors were locked at 4 p.m.

Despite the locked doors, the petition was delivered. “We slid it under the door,” Stromyer said.

Stromyer said as an unemployed nurse she feels she is in a “situation where she can help” advocate for the legislation without fear of retaliation.

“We’re not asking for anything new (in the bill),” she said. “We don’t want more money or benefits. Just a safe environment for nurses and patients.”

Hutchinson said he “appreciates the input” regarding the legislation. He did not express an official stance but said he is “still in listening mode.”

He said that crafting legislation that addresses the issue of safe patient limits is a “balancing act” that will both ensure patient safety and keep hospital and health care facility doors open.

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