Some nurses have to work 24 hours

The nursing shortage at LBJ Hospital is so severe that a 12 hour shift has become the norm. And if a nurse calls in sick and can’t relieve another whose already worked 12 hours, that nurse would have to work 24 hours.

Director of Nursing at LBJ Hospital, Simamao Tuatoo, said they can’t avoid overtime work because “we simply don’t have enough nurses.”

She said there’s no pool of local nurses to draw from and it’s been like this for the last few years.

The LBJ CEO Faumuina John Faumuina says they are ready to hire 20 registered nurses from the Philippines but are awaiting approval from the Governor and Lt Givernor for permission to bring them from the Philippines.

He believes this will address the nursing shortage and resolve the overtime issue.

Faumuina and Mrs Tuatoo were speaking at a hearing of House Health Committee to explain overtime payments for nurses.

Last month the hospital stopped paying time and a half for overtime of registered nurses as they were considered professional workers being paid salaries that are exempt from overtime. The hospital had switched to paying them the regular rate for overtime

This came after the registered nurses received salary increases.

Before that the RNs were paid time and a half for any hours over the standard 40 hours.

CEO Faumuina said after it was brought to his attention that nurses were unhappy with the new overtime pay, he suspended the exempted status of RNs and resumed paying them time and a half for overtime hours.

He said both the US Dept of Labor and Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services contacted him to make sure the hospital was complying with their rules.

The CEO explained that one of the concerns is that if nurses work long hours it will affect the quality of service.

But he said both agencies have agreed with his decision to resume payment of overtime at time and a half for six months while a committee looks into ways to handle nursing staffing and work conditions going forward.

Faumuina said the hiring of 20 new nurses from the Philippines should resolve the nursing shortage and reduce the need for overtime. Nurses from the Philippines are US certified.

Nursing Director Tuatoo said the closing of borders is delaying the arrival of nurses from off island. “We have a severe shortage,” she said, “there’s nothing we can do because we don’t have a pool of nurses we can hire.”

Nurses in the wards work 12 hour shifts while those in the clinics work the regular 8 hours. However if a nurse calls in sick, they sometimes have to work 24 hours to cover the absent one.

The Nursing Director herself has had to do ward duty because of the shortage.

The Health Committee, chaired by Rep Andra Samoa welcomed the CEO’s decision to revert the overtime policy for RNs. But they urged that the hospital do more to support the nursing program at the American Samoa Community College.