Clinical staffing problems for Pennsylvania healthcare facilities created by shortages of nursing professionals will be greatly exacerbated by a new law prohibiting mandatory overtime for employees engaged in direct patient care. The Commonwealth is already facing a nursing shortage, which is growing worse. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Pennsylvania health care providers will experience a 41 percent vacancy rate in nursing positions by the year 2020, requiring more than 54,000 nurses to provide adequate patient care. Restrictions on the amount of work time for an already short labor pool will likely increase problems.
The Prohibition on Excessive Overtime in Health Care Act becomes effective on July 1, 2009. Health care facilities covered by the law include hospitals, ASCs, hospices, long-term care facilities and other inpatient facilities, but it excludes private physician offices and group practices. Employees protected by the law include all nonsupervisory employees involved in direct patient care activities or clinical services, including individuals employed through a temporary service or employment agency. Physicians, physician’s assistants, dentists, and job classes with no direct patient care are excluded from the overtime limitations.
A health care facility cannot compel a protected employee to work more than an agreed to, predetermined and regular daily shift exclusive of “on call” time, unless one of the following exceptions applies:
(1) the employee voluntarily agrees;
(2) there is an unforeseen emergent circumstance but as a “last resort”, after exhausting other staffing options and giving the employee one hour arrange for family care alternatives;
(3) the extended work is required to complete a patient care procedure already in progress, but only if the employee’s departure would have an adverse effect on the patient.
Employers are permitted to have agreed upon, predetermined and regular shifts greater than 8 hours; however, an employee who volunteers to work more than 12 consecutive hours shall be entitled to 10 hours off duty but may waive the entitlement. Employers may not retaliate against employees who refuse to accept work in excess of the limits. Employers who violate the law are subject to fines ranging from $100 to $1000 per violation.
The Department of Labor and Industry is to develop regulations within 18 months. The law received modest press as it was signed by the Governor along with 31 other pieces of legislation.