March is Women's History Month and, as a nursing shortage looms in our state, the Alaska Nurses Association (AaNA) is calling attention to a pair of lawmakers who bettered the field of nursing – a profession traditionally dominated by women. 

Chair of AaNA’s Labor Council Donna Phillips says it wasn’t long ago that nurses were made to work as many as 16 hours in a single day, and that two women in the Alaska legislature, both nurses themselves, championed legislation to spare colleagues across the state from being forced to work overtime.

Former Rep. Peggy Wilson, a Wrangell Republican, and late Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bettye Davis’ measure capped nursing days at 14 hours.

Wilson introduced legislation in the House that Davis later mirrored in the Senate. After several sessions, HB 50 was approved in April 2010.

Phillips says it was a victory for the profession. 

"We had a nursing shortage, we were finding that it was easier for the employer to just say to nurses, 'Well, you're going to stay extra,'" Phillips said. 

Aside from causing burnout, Phillips says the increasing demand on nurses puts patients at risk.

"Medical errors happen," she explained. "You miss things that you would have normally caught." 

Back in 2010, Sen. Davis mirrored those thoughts on the Senate floor, just before a unanimous vote in support of the measure, saying “This is a safety issue and a very important issue."

In the midst of today’s nursing shortage, another nurse, Sen. Cathy Giessel is head of the Senate and the industry is hoping history repeats itself.

Last year, lawmakers passed a bill aimed at reducing workplace violence for healthcare professionals. Phillips says working conditions at Alaska Psychiatric Institute, which had its management privatized by Gov. Mike Dunleavy this year, are still a concern.

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