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Nurses rally at Capitol

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Nurses and nursing students from across the state rallied at the steps of the State Capitol this week advocating for legislation to increase nursing support and protections. 

Organized in part by the Alabama State Nursing Association, a nonprofit organization that has advocated for nurses for more than 100 years, demonstrators were advocating for two laws in particular to be implemented in Alabama; the Safe Harbor Protection Law, and the Preceptor Tax Incentive.

“The last few years have certainly been a visual reminder to our state just how important nurses are; I think all the things we have seen have shown your resilience and compassion,” Sen. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, said to the crowd. Weaver is a former nurse. “Everything that we need to push our state forward has to do with nurses, and I’ll tell you, I’m so proud to represent you and your advocacy.”

Alabama State Nurses Association President James Harden speaks at the nurses rally.

The Safe Harbor Protection Law would allow for nurses to refuse to accept an assignment that puts patient care at risk without fear of punitive action. Scenarios where such a law would help protect nurses, ASNA argues, include a nurse being given an assignment for which they haven’t been properly trained for, or being given too many patients at once; two scenarios that have increased in frequency due to Alabama’s ongoing nursing shortage.

According to 2022 data compiled by ASNA, a survey of 815 nurses found that medical-surgical nurses were carrying an average of six patients, and as high as eight in some cases. The survey also found that 38% of hospital nurses – including ER, inpatient care and ICU nurses – rated their hospital’s patient safety as “poor” or “failing.” Roughly 93% of ICU nurses signified that they strongly agreed with the statement: “I am exhausted and stressed to the core.”

While no equivalent to the Safe Harbor Protection Law has been introduced in Alabama, other states – including Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana – have implemented such laws, with advocates hoping Alabama joins their ranks.

On the other hand, the Preceptor Tax Incentive does have a bill equivalent currently making its way through the Alabama Legislature.

Sponsored by Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, House Bill 133 would provide tax incentives to encourage nurses and other health care workers to train and work in rural and underserved areas. The bill would provide income tax credits ranging from $425-$500 for health care workers who train or work in rural or underserved areas for at least a year.

Rural areas, of which 44% of Alabama’s population lives in, have been greatly affected by health care worker shortage, with eight rural hospitals having closed in rural areas since 2011.

Rafferty’s bill was originally scheduled to be voted on during a Wednesday meeting of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, but was delayed.

James Harden, the president of ASNA who started his career just down the road from the Capitol at the now-closed St. Margaret’s Hospital as a nurse technician, urged Alabama’s nearly 100,000 nurses to continue to be engaged in the political process.

“How do we make staffing better in our state?” Harden said.

“Because it’s not just about us and our licenses, it’s also about the patients you take care of, and that’s going to be our main focus. I hope you guys got a lot out of your visit, but again, every single one of you votes, and just remember when it is time for you to vote, look at what your candidates are trying to do for health care in your state.”

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