Nurses Welcome Introduction of Legislation to Improve VA Care, RN Patient Advocacy Rights

Silver Spring, Maryland–(ENEWSPF)–May 8, 2015.  Registered nurses today applauded the introduction of federal legislation to improve patient care for veterans, ensure equity among federal health care workers, and enable the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recruit and retain a strong health care work force to serve the nation’s veterans.

The bills, introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), would restore full collective bargaining rights to registered nurses and other clinicians employed by the Veterans Administration.  The legislation would reform Section 7422 of title 38 of the U.S. code, which limits the rights of VA professionals in collective bargaining, a significant step forward to enhancing the quality of care in VA facilities.

“Nurses across the country thank Sen. Brown and Rep. Takano for standing up for quality health care for our nation’s veterans by allowing VA RNs to exercise their rights to advocate for their patients,” said Karen Higgins, RN, co-President of National Nurses United, the largest organization of RNs in the United States.

Section 7422 has limited the ability of VA registered nurses and other clinicians to speak out about working conditions that impact the quality and safety of patient care. Currently, management can leave VA RNs without a resolution to disputes that hurt patient care such as excessive mandatory overtime or assignment of a nurse to a new hospital unit without adequate training.

“Registered nurses are on the front lines of patient care and they deserve a voice to help improve their working conditions and their ability to care for their patients,” Sen. Brown said. “I stand with National Nurses United in calling on the VA to give registered nurses the same collective bargaining rights enjoyed by other VA clinicians.”

“Thousands of VA nurses and health care practitioners are committed to taking care of our heroes,” said Rep. Takano. “We know the toll that our veterans have paid serving and defending our country, and it’s important that we do all we can to take care of them – that includes giving the health practitioners in VA hospitals rights to negotiate their salaries and workplace conditions. Doing so would reduce turnover, increase staff levels, and create a more stable health care environment for veterans. The VA Employee Fairness Act of 2015 does just that and I look forward to it making its way through Congress.”

“Registered nurses within the VA healthcare system are dedicated to providing high quality care and advocating for the heroic men and women who put themselves and their health at risk defending our nation,” said Irma Westmoreland, RN, chair of Veterans Affairs for National Nurses United.

“Our patient advocacy includes speaking up for safe staffing, working to ensure that our patients get the care they need, and being constantly vigilant on their behalf. Collective bargaining gives us the tools to speak up for our veteran patients,” Westmoreland said.

The bills would ensure that VA nurses can negotiate, file grievances, and arbitrate over issues relating to direct patient care, and would also provide them the same rights as other VA clinicians such as LPNs, nursing assistants, and nursing unit clerks as well as registered nurses (RNs) at other agencies such as the Defense Department.

“Our nation’s veterans deserve the very best care. As patient advocates, nurses need to be able to bargain about critical patient care issues like staffing so that our veterans get the care that they deserve after the sacrifices that they have made,” said Maria Ronquillo, a registered nurse in the medical intensive care unit at the Washington, D.C. VA medical center

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest organization of nurses representing 185,000 RNs, represents nurses at 23 VA facilities throughout the United States.