Bipartisan legislation would require hospitals to staff enough nurses to care for patients.
This is something you’d think everyone could agree on: There should be enough nurses on a hospital’s staff to give patients the quality care they need. But if you’ve ever been in the hospital, you know that’s not always the case. And it’s downright dangerous. Numerous studies have shown that when nurses are required to care for too many patients, there’s an increased risk of complications like hospital-acquired infections, falls, preventable readmissions and even death.
As it turns out, ensuring safe nurse staffing levels is something a lot of people agree on. A recent poll that’s the first of its kind in the state shows that Michigan voters overwhelmingly want their legislators to establish a law that improves hospital care by limiting the currently unreasonable workloads placed on nurses, which often includes mandatory overtime hours.
Michigan legislators are listening. The Safe Patient Care Act has been introduced in the House (HB 5013) by Democratic Rep. Jon Hoadley and in the Senate (SB 574) by Democratic Rep. Sen. Rebekah Warren, to push for a law to establish minimum staffing levels for registered nurses (RNs). What’s more, there’s bipartisan support in both chambers, with 31 co-sponsors for HB 5013.
Rep. Hoadley has this to say:
Michigan residents are saying loud and clear that our registered nurses are being forced to care for too many patients at once. Chronic nurse understaffing jeopardizes the care and safety of people in our hospitals every day. The only real solution is to pass a law that gives nurses enough time to spend with each patient and provide individualized care.
Right now, there’s no law that requires hospitals to have a certain number of nurses working at any given time. If you’ve ever fretted about how long it took for a hospital nurse to respond when you pushed the call button for yourself or a loved one, not having enough nurses on staff was undoubtedly the reason for the delay. And it’s not simply about convenience. A study published in Nursing Standard showed that seven additional lives would be saved for every 100 patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) if nurse numbers increased from four to six per bed.
The Safe Patient Care Act requires minimum RN staffing in hospitals and curbs the rampant use of mandatory overtime. It would achieve this by requiring Michigan hospitals to:
- Implement a staffing plan specific to each unit that adheres to minimum nurse-to-patient ratios based on research and national professional standards.
- Limit mandatory RN overtime to instances of genuine emergencies.
- Disclose their actual RN staffing levels and inform patients about how to report potential violations of the law.
“Registered nurses want to make sure that every patient, no matter what hospital you go to, receives quality care and is protected from harm,” said John Armelagos, an RN at University of Michigan Health System and Michigan Nurses Association president. “Michigan needs a law so that every patient gets the nursing care they need, not the amount of care allowed by number crunchers focused on making money.”
According to Sen. Warren, registered nurse understaffing is a public health issue.
It makes no sense that we limit the number of hours people can fly airplanes and drive trucks but put no limits on nurses’ hours. It’s dangerous and unfair to patients when nurses are so exhausted that they must compromise care and can’t protect their patients from harm.
Michigan voters overwhelmingly agree. In the statewide survey commissioned by the Michigan Nurses Association, 80 percent of voters were in favor of passing a law establishing minimum nurse staffing levels in Michigan hospitals.
The poll also revealed that:
- 77 percent of voters agree that “the quality of patient care in MI hospitals is suffering because registered nurses are being assigned too many patients per shift.”
- 44 percent of households with an overnight hospital stay in the past two years believe the quality of care suffered due to nurses having too many patients at one time.
- 69 of voters blame the understaffing on hospitals trying to save money, rather than a nursing shortage.
- 71 percent of respondents still favored minimum nurse staffing standards even if it increased costs.
- 69 percent of voters said they would be more likely support their Representative or Senator for establishing minimum nurse staffing levels — and 58 percent said they would be less likely to support their legislator for opposing such a measure, making this a potentially important issue in upcoming elections.
Republican Rep. Larry Inman said he’s cosponsoring the bill because he frequently hears from hospital nurses in his district who can’t provide quality care because they are assigned to too many patients.
It’s just plain wrong that when you go into the hospital, your nurse could have far too many patients to be safe. A nurse’s workload can literally be a matter of life or death for you or your loved one. This is a case where the government needs to enact reasonable standards to protect all its citizens, and I’m glad to see bipartisan movement toward achieving that.
To learn more about the Safe Patient Care Act — and lend your voice to the cause — visit the Campaign for Safer Hospitals website. You can also use this handy form to email your state legislators to tell them you support the Safe Patient Care Act.
[Image credit: Rhoda Baer via Wikimedia Commons.]