Issues

Whistleblowers Need Protection
The Voices of Iowa Nurses Need to be Heard
Genetically Modified Organisms: Coexisting in a Transgenic Iowa Predatory Lending

Whistleblowers Need Protection

I have always been an advocate in the Iowa Senate for affordable, quality health care and for policies that protect Iowa patients. That’s why I was surprised by a confusing letter to the editor that included misinformation about a health care issue I am working on.

Monitoring and improving the quality of Iowa health care is something we should all be interested in. I’m proud that the hospitals and clinics located in my senate district are among the nation’s leaders when it comes to continuous efforts to improve patient care.

One serious health care concern here in Iowa is nurse staffing shortages. Iowa, 50th in the nation when it comes to average pay for nurses, has — not surprisingly — trouble finding enough nurses. These shortages increase the likelihood that experienced nurses will leave nursing due to burnout and not being able to provide quality care to their patients. Shortage also may lead administrators to reduce patient care by increasing the number of patients under a single nurse’s care.

This is why I led an effort to create a legislative study committee this year to study the nurse staffing issue. The committee met and heard expert testimony on the key issues.

One of the things I learned is that this summer, the Iowa Department of Public Health held public meetings across Iowa to gather information on these issues. More than two-thirds of the nurses who provided comments withheld their names for fear of possible retribution from their employers. I trust nurses to give accurate information about their patients and the quality of care they are receiving. When nurses don’t feel they can share their professional views, it raises a red flag for me and for many other people interested in health care.

Thousands of nurses work in my Senate District. I admire the work they do on behalf of Iowans. I take seriously the concerns Iowa nurses have shared with me. That’s why I will continue to work with the Iowa Nurses Association and the professionals represented by the Services Employees International Union to support whistleblower protections so frontline nurses and other health care workers are free to speak out when they feel patient care is endangered.

 

The Voices of Iowa nurses Need to be Heard

Are there enough nurses in Iowa hospitals? Are patients like you and I at risk because there just aren’t enough nurses to care for us?

I recently heard expert testimony on this issue from all sides. I’m the co-chair of a state legislative committee investigating this troubling issue.

Recently, the Iowa Department of Public Health held public meetings statewide on this issue. One nurse explained how a lower nurse-to-patient ratio would benefit Iowans receiving medical care:

“I wouldn’t feel as rushed. I could spend more time with my patients which would improve care and patient satisfaction. There would be less chance of mistakes.”

One proposed solution is to establish mandatory nurse-to-patient staffing ratios similar to those adopted by California. Rather than depending on each hospital to balance the risks of understaffing against each hospital’s bottom line, the Legislature would establish a floor below which no Iowa hospital could fall.

There are various approaches to protect Iowans from being injured by hospital staff shortages. Mandatory staffing ratios might be part of the answer. Our investigation, however, has raised a new question: Are nurses afraid to tell what they know about this problem?

Of the 278 nurses who provided written comments at this summer’s public hearings, only 87 were willing to give their names and tell where they worked. Several said they feared they would be fired if their employers knew they had provided this information.

That so many nurses were afraid to speaking publicly is very troubling. As we address the issue of hospital staffing shortfalls, we must make sure Iowa nurses are not afraid to speak freely about the best ways to improve bedside healthcare.

I am working to provide Iowa health care workers with "whistle blower protections" so they can speak freely without fear of retaliation by employers. This is a bi-partisan, common sense measure that will lead to better health care for every Iowan. Let’s make sure nurses voice are heard when it comes to providing Iowans with high quality health care.

 

Genetically Modified Organisms: Coexisting in a Transgenic Iowa

As I reported in the May/June 2005 Catalyst, the Iowa General Assembly approved legislation in 2005 to prohibit local governments from regulating agricultural seed.

The bill was proposed by large agricultural and chemical corporations that want to ensure their ability to control what is planted and what we eat.

I thought the bill was unnecessary since there were no counties or cities in Iowa planning to regulate agricultural seed. Seeing that the bill would pass, I worked with several colleagues to get a bi-partisan commitment from senate leaders to establish a legislative study committee to explore issues of concern to growers of organic and identity preserved crops.

It was a real learning experience serving on the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Study Committee. The committee held two meetings to review issues regarding the use of genetically modified organisms also referred to as “transgenic crops” in agricultural production.

The committee heard testimony from experts on a variety of topics including transgenic pollen drift, organic standards and possible ways to reduce conflicts between producers that grow transgenic and non-transgenic crops.

The committee learned about the following topics:

In 2005, 60% of all Iowa corn acres were planted to a biotech variety. For soybeans, the figure was higher – 91% of all Iowa acres planted to a biotech variety.

Organic standards are process standards. In other words, if a producer follows all the rules to be certified as an organic farm and takes reasonable steps to avoid transgenic and pesticide contamination, then the agricultural products produced are considered organic.

USDA Organic Standards do not prohibit the adventitious or unintended presence of transgenic material from being present in your USDA certified organic food such as corn tortilla chips or tofu.

Products labeled with the USDA organic seal are allowed a certain level of contamination from both pesticides and transgenic materials.

There is no way to isolate a gene in nature. As a result, it is impossible to avoid some level of contamination from transgenic pollen drift. It was repeatedly stated by pro-bio-technology presenters that zero tolerance for transgenic contamination was impossible and unnecessary.

There is virtually no testing of non-transgenic crops or products in the U.S. for contamination.

While organic food sales are growing at about 20 percent per year, increasing foreign imports of organic produce and meat are taking away business from American farmers.

Iowa’s organic food industry is growing. There are approximately 75 organic food processors, 400 organic farms and 80,000 certified organic acres in Iowa.

So can transgenic crop producers and organic crop producers co-exist? Several suggestions were made to address this question including the need for stricter grain handling regulations, the development of neighborhood cropping plans that would help minimize contamination and the establishment of an insurance or indemnity fund to reimburse producers for financial loses due to contamination.

Unfortunately, after hearing more than eight hours of testimony, the study committee members could not agree on any recommendations. While I was disappointed that we could not find common ground, I will be working with legislative colleagues this session to advance several proposals.

Some of these include efforts to promote more organic farming through the establishment of an organic farming center to help new and existing organic farmers be successful. The need for property tax incentives for certified organic farms and the development of insurance coverage to protect farmers from financial losses due to contamination of crops.

To learn more about the work of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Study Committee visit www.legis.state.ia.us or contact me at joe@joebolkcom.org or 319-337-6280.