Nursing Spotlight: HNA's labor union perspective

Nursing Spotlight: HNA's labor union perspective

PBN's cover story this week on nursing featured a conversation with Daniel Ross, President of the Hawaii Nurses' Association, to get the labor perspective of Hawaii's nursing crisis.

What is your role as a member of HNA in addressing the current shortage of health professionals and the new legislation? What are the other challenges that you're addressing for members and nurses? HNA has been a strong advocate for the safety of patients and healthcare professionals. We are often the only ones who raise these important issues. Our members are currently very concerned about workplace safety, preventing violence against health workers and dealing with it. HNA has taken a number of steps to discuss these issues with employers.

We have also considered ways to introduce new legislation. HNA and Rep. Sean Quinlin worked together to draft legislation addressing the issue of safe nurse-to patient ratios, as well as limiting mandatory overtime. The problems would be obvious if policymakers and employers listened to the concerns expressed by frontline health professionals. We predict that Hawaii's health care facilities will experience strikes over the next two years due to the deferred bill on safe staffing, which limits mandatory overtime. This is the only way we can correct the course correction of patient safety and burnout among professionals.

The issue of staffing is a major one that affects or contributes to many other problems. The solution is not to establish more nursing schools. No one wants to address the elephant in the corner, which is staff retention. Hawaii needs better working conditions, including safer ones. Wages should also be competitive with mainland facilities. We will keep trying to include these provisions in our contracts so that we can raise the bar on worker and patient conditions.

What are the most important opportunities you have identified in Hawaii's Nursing Industry for the next year? The staffing problem would be solved if we had safe and fair working conditions. Also, we must provide better incentives to encourage workers to enter and stay in the health care field. Hawaii could be the leader in the nation when it comes to making health care an attractive career.

How can Hawaii businesses better retain and attract nurses? The Mainland offers more competitive wages, taking into account the cost of living.

Which state programs, or employers that you are aware of, promote workforce development in the nursing profession? We are not aware of any programs currently promoting the workforce development in the nursing profession. We have sought easy solutions that don't address the real issues. The only solution that government officials and politicians offer is to open more nursing schools, but the problem has not been properly diagnosed. A study found that two out of every five newly graduated nurses quit their profession in the first five years.

If we're serious about addressing Hawaii's shortage of health care workers, we must explore ways to improve the working conditions. This includes compensation, mandatory overtime, workplace safety and violence against healthcare workers. We will continue to avoid the issue unless we can all agree what the state's challenges are. To make real progress in Hawaii, we need to solve the core problems.

Hawaii Nurses' Association members:

In 2008, 3,606

In 2019, there will be 4,723

In 2020, 4,000

In 2021, there will be 3,993

Nursing by the Numbers

Source: Hawaii State of Hawaii 2021 Data Book,

Hawaii's top 25 occupations by May 2021

No. 20: Registered nurses

Employment: 11,110

Average wage per hour in dollars: $51.22

Average wage per year in dollars: $106,530