Assemblywoman Gunther celebrates safe staffing bill

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 7/7/21

MONTICELLO, NY — Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther has accomplished a lot in her most recent term of office, but her safe staffing bill, recently signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, stands out as an accomplishment of which she is especially proud.

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Assemblywoman Gunther celebrates safe staffing bill

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MONTICELLO, NY — Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther has accomplished a lot in her most recent term of office, but her safe staffing bill, recently signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, stands out as an accomplishment of which she is especially proud.

“My dream has come to fruition,” Gunther says.

The safe staffing bill (Assembly Bill 108-B, Senate Bill 1168 B) aims at ensuring that hospitals are sufficiently staffed with nurses and other front-line personnel.

The bill establishes clinical staffing committees comprised of nurses, auxiliary front line workers and key members of hospital administrations. These committees, which the bill requires of every hospital in New York, will develop plans ensuring that hospitals have sufficient staff to fully meet patient needs without becoming overworked.

The bill also provides for an advisory committee, reporting to the Assembly and other key bodies of state government. This committee will oversee the clinical staffing committees and ensure that hospitals are in compliance.

The bill passed the Assembly and the Senate earlier this year and was signed into law by Cuomo on June 18. Gunther drove down to New York City to be present at the signing, attending it together with nurses from across New York State.

The pandemic provided some of the impetus that got the bill passed. In a statement following the passage of the bill, Cuomo said, “The COVID-19 pandemic placed unprecedented strain on New York State’s hospital systems and revealed a host of issues with regard to staffing and the effective allocation of resources.”

But according to Gunther, the bill has been a long time coming. She has been working on it for the past 10 years, well before the pandemic exposed the problems within the system.

Gunther’s focus on safe staffing is informed by her background as a nurse. She spent years in nursing units at Catskill Regional Medical Center before accepting a position as Director of Performance Improvement and Risk Management.

Her experience also informs her legislative work more broadly: “My nursing background helps with just being a human being and knowing when people are suffering,” she says.

Helping Sullivan County

Gunther brings this empathy to other areas of her legislative focus as well.

While explaining why she sponsored a bill lowering the state hunting age from 14 to 12, Gunther mentions her personal connection with hunting, saying her husband’s family has owned hunting camps since the late 1800s. “It’s always been a family activity,” she says; letting children participate in that activity from a young age brings families closer, establishing lifelong connections.

The same personal connection is present when Gunther discusses the state’s recovery from the pandemic. She mentions that one of her daughters is coming to see her for the first time in a year and that getting to see families again is “mentally... great... for adults, seniors and children” in Sullivan County.

While families reuniting will not solve all of the mental problems from the pandemic, Gunther says it certainly helps. And another of her bills, a piece of legislation designating 988 as a three-digit mental health hotline, will help as well, providing a resource for anyone struggling with issues of mental health.

“The pandemic highlighted an awareness of some of the services that were needed in our communities,” says Gunther.

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