January 6, 2018

Proposed Federal RN Ratios - What You Can Do About It

Silhouette of US capitol building at dusk

For years, nurses across the nation have been asking for safer staffing ratios. With tighter budgets and substantial increases in the number of patients, nurses have been working in situations that endanger both patients and themselves. Mandated staffing ratios are key addressing this issue.

However, as of 2017, California is still the only state to have a safe patient ratio law.

The first bill to mandate a safe nurse to patient ratio took effect in January 2004. For 13 years leading up to the historic bill, the California Nurses Association worked diligently to advocate and lobby for the law despite resistance from the powerful hospital industry. When the bill first passed, many within the healthcare community hoped that it would lead the way for other states to adopt similar laws. 

Current Legislation

Unfortunately, other states did not follow suit as hoped. However,with two national bills set to appear before the Senate and the House, all this may change.

The Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act (S.1063) (Brown) seeks to mandate nurse to patient ratios, especially in acute care situations. The act also seeks to empower nurses by obligating RNs to act in the best interest of the patient and advocate for patients without regard to bureaucratic and budgetary concerns of fear of being reprimanded for putting the patient first.

The Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act (H.R.2392) (Schakowsky) also recognizes the fact that nurses are often put into difficult situations where they are pressured to care for too many patients, which results in poorer care overall. The bill seeks to remove these external pressures and allow nurses and patients to benefit from safe care ratios. In addition, the bill is designed to clearly dictate that nurses should always put the well-being of the patient above all other concerns.

 Federal registered nurse ratios plan

It comes as a surprise to many that these common-sense mandates have not already been written into law. The legal protection they provide for both nurses and patients surely increases the quality of care. 

Thus far, the hospital industry has been able to successfully block any regulations that may affect their bottom line. Both the current Senate and House bills are closely modeled after California’s law and are the most promising development in the fight for safe staff to patient ratios. Many national nursing organizations are working to garner support for the bills and mobilize their members to contact their representatives.


Why Safe Staffing Ratios Are So Important

Decreasing the number of patients that nurses are required to care for during the course of their shifts provides a wide range of benefits to both nurses and patients. 

Unfortunately, massive cuts in nursing and hospitals budgets along with a shortage of qualified nurses has led to unsafe nurse to patient ratios. As a result, patients are at a higher risk of infection, medication errors, falls and even death. While hospitals are designed to provide a safe place for patients to receive treatment and heal, staffing shortages are undermining the very purpose of the healthcare system.

It should come as no surprise that nursing shortages and mandatory overtime are also negatively affecting individual nurses and the profession as a whole. Unsafe and stressful working conditions have caused 1 out of 5 new nurses leave the profession completely within just 12 months of earning their licensure. 

In addition, 1 out of 3 nurses leave within two years of starting work. These attrition numbers are often attributed to a general sense of burnout that comes from being overworked and feeling pressured to take on more patients and responsibilities than is safe.

 So far, nurses outside of California have had little support, outside of professional organizations, in combating these challenges.

What You Can Do

Helping these bills become law will not only allow nurses to more effectively practice their craft, it will also make for  better patient care, helping them to avoid complications and recover faster.

There are many things you can do to support the passage of these bills. From contacting your local senators to joining nursing associations committed to this fight, you can be part of this much-needed change. You’ll find all the information you need to get started in the Nurse.org Safe Staffing Action Kit.

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