April 8, 2019

Illinois Nurses Push Bill For Safe Staffing Ratios

Illinois Nurses Push Bill For Safe Staffing Ratios

By: Portia Wofford

Illinois nurses are a step closer to safe patient-to-nurse ratios. A bill was introduced that mandates specific patient-to-nurse ratios on every unit, in every hospital.  On March 27th  the Safe Patient Limits Act--House Bill 2604 (HB 2604)--advanced out of the House Labor and Commerce Committee. The bill sets limits on the number of patients nurses can care for at one time. 

The bill requires, 

  • One nurse for every four patients in med-surge units
  • One nurse for every three patients in intermediate care 
  • One nurse for every two patients in ICU.

Although the model is based on the California law, passed in 2004, that mandates specific nurse-patient ratios, it goes a step forward to set the gold standard for patient safety. 

This bill would also mandate minimum staffing ratios in long term acute-care hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers.

Illinois Could Join California In Making History

One of the bill’s main opponents is hospital associations.  A.J. Wilhelmi, President, and CEO of the Illinois Health and Hospital Associations state that with hospitals already struggling financially and the shortage of nurses--if the bill were to pass--services and other jobs would be eliminated. He suggests that the staffing limits could raise healthcare by more than $2 billion, each year, according to NPR Illinois.

Despite opposition, nurses are still advocating for the bill. On the Illinois Nurses’ Association (INA) Facebook page they post,

 “Despite the hospital lobby using fear mongering to stop this bill we have a real chance of winning if you take action, now!” Alice Johnson, Executive Director of INA and INA Vice President Doris Carroll, testified on behalf of HB 2604. Johnson stated, “Safe patient limits reduce the likelihood of patient death and reduce adverse outcomes like hospital-acquired infections, cardiac arrest, pneumonia, and readmission rates.” If HB 2604 passes, Illinois will be only the second state to mandate limits on the number of patients a nurse can be made to care for.

Safe Staffing

Currently, California is the only state that mandates, in law and regulations, a required minimum nurse-to-patient ratios to be maintained at all times. No federal law mandates safe staffing, despite overwhelming evidence that shows safe staffing helps improve patient outcomes. 

According to the American Nurse Association, adding more registered nurses to staffing has eliminated almost one-fifth of all hospital deaths and reduced the risk of adverse patient events.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has also acknowledged the need for safe staffing ratios by stating, “assigning increasing numbers of patients eventually compromises nurses' ability to provide safe care.” 

Safe staffing is also critical for the health and safety of nurses. A 2015 study showed that California’s safe staffing law was associated with almost 56% fewer occupational injuries and illnesses per ten thousand registered nurses per year.

Related. It’s Time for Federal Nurse Ratios

What’s Next 

While there are many factors that come into play when it comes to mandates on nurse-patient ratios, the Safe Patient Limits Act was voted out of the committee--seventeen to eight-- and will now be voted on by the House. It is expected to come up for the vote before the full assembly by April 12th.


Portia Wofford is a nurse, millennial strategist, healthcare writer, entrepreneur, and micro-influencer. Chosen as a brand ambassador or collaborative partner for various organizations, Wofford strives to empower nurses by offering nurses resources for career development--while providing organizations with tools to close generational gaps within their nursing staff. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest.


Email Signup

Find a job, learn, connect and laugh.

Try us out.

Join our newsletter