Health care workers demand better working conditions

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SANTA FE, N.M. — Dozens of nurses and medical workers protested outside the Roundhouse Friday morning. They are demanding better staffing conditions inside hospitals, and state lawmakers are working to make that possible.

A nonprofit health care group recently ranked New Mexico 44th in the nation for patient safety – almost 10 spots lower than in 2019. Albuquerque Rep. Eleanor Chavez is hoping to change that, by mandating how many patients nurses are assigned to a single shift.

There’s no national standard for staff-to-patient ratios, but most experts agree emergency room and ICU nurses should only handle one or two patients. Nurses in less intense departments can reportedly handle up to four or five patients. Chavez says nurses in New Mexico are often handling way more than that.

“For example, in a newborn ICU unit, nurses were being told that they were going to be taking four babies, four babies isn’t safe, especially when they’re in an ICU,” Chavez said. “Two babies might be safe. You know, in some situations, one baby might be safe.”

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the odds of a patient death increase by 7% for each additional patient a nurse is assigned to. Rep. Chavez noted the increased workload is also pushing more nurses to quit, which leads to even more staffing issues. Supporters said a bill like this is long overdue.

“Other industries, like flight attendants, they have a set number of people that they can have on a plane, and they have a set number of hours they can work, and we don’t even have that basic necessity,” said Adrianna Enghouse with United Health Care Professionals of New Mexico.

Chavez’s bill was officially introduced during Friday’s House session. She said it will be up to the state’s Department of Health and local health care experts to determine the best staff-to-patient ratios.