Massachusetts is the latest state to restrict mandatory overtime for nurses to protect patients from fatigue-induced medical errors.
A new Massachusetts law prohibiting mandatory overtime for nurses went into effect yesterday, and it’s garnering significant support from the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United.
MNA/NNU, which describes itself as the largest professional healthcare association and largest union of registered nurses in the state, held a press conference last week to detail how the law will affect not only nurses but patients as well.
“Forcing nurses to work when they are exhausted endangers patients and leads to costly, preventable medical errors and complications,” said MNA/NNU President Donna Kelly-Willams. “The practice of mandatory overtime is indefensible by any patient safety standard, and yet hospitals continue to increase their use of this practice.”
Under the new law, nurses will not be allowed to work more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period, and they will be protected from any employment retribution—such as discrimination, dismissal, or discharge—based on their refusal to work longer hours. Hospitals will be required to report any instances of mandatory overtime to the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH).
MNA/NNU cites multiple studies linking nurse fatigue and overwork to medical errors and patient deaths, and in Patient Safety and Quality, An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses, the federal Agency for Health Research and Quality recommends that nurses be prohibited from mandatory or voluntary overtime in excess of 12 hours in a 24-hour period or in excess of 60 hours over seven days in order to reduce error-producing fatigue.
According to the American Nurses Association, 14 other states have statutory restrictions on mandatory overtime for nurses: Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia. California and Missouri have similar provisions in regulations.
To ensure that hospitals and medical facilities are abiding by the new law, MNA/NNU has already mailed information on the new regulations to all nurses in the state.
“We have also set up a page on our website, which contains an online form for nurses to report any instances where they have been mandated to work overtime,” Kelly-Williams said. “We will be gathering that data and sharing it with the DPH, the legislature’s public health committee, and other responsible agencies to ensure that the industry is held accountable for following this law.”