Nurses applaud a bill introduced by federal lawmakers to ensure the safety of patients

by Ricky Rillera

Nurses hold signs “Safe Staffing Now” | Source: National Nurses United

NEW YORK – Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09) have introduced a federal bill, Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act. The proposed legislation would set specific safety limits on the numbers of patients each RN can care for in hospitals throughout the US.

The legislation offers a remedy to the decades-long, industry-wide, routine practice of forcing RNs to care for too many patients at one time. Higher patient assignments have been linked to a higher risk of preventable medical errors, avoidable complications, falls and injuries, pressure sores, increased length of stay, readmissions, and higher death rates.

In his remarks, Sen. Brown said nurses worked long hours, doing vital work in the health care system even before the pandemic. “They have been on the frontlines of this crisis for more than a year now, and they deserve our support,” he said. “Their jobs are critical to keeping patients safe and providing the highest quality care. But too often, nurses are stretched too thin, caring for too many patients with not enough support. We can prevent that by ensuring nurses are adequately staffed, and protecting their ability to go to hospital management, without fearing potential retaliation.”

Rep. Schakowsky added: “This bill will improve the health of patients by improving nursing care—establishing minimum registered nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals, providing whistleblower protections to nurses who advocate on behalf of their patients, and investing in training and career development to retain hard-working nurses in the workforce.”

The National Nurses United (MNU), the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the US, welcomed and applauded the introduction of the federal bill.

“Safe staffing levels are critically important to ensure patients are properly and safely taken care of at a health care facility,” said Jean Ross, RN, and an NNU president. “Evidence has demonstrated that RN staffing ratios prevent avoidable infections, injuries, and deaths. For this reason, the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act is critical legislation, and nurses across the country urge every member of Congress to support this bill.”

According to NNU, in addition to issues with patient care, unsafe staffing levels contribute to higher RN burnout rates and job dissatisfaction.

The bill comes at a time as NNU has been holding virtual rallies, shift-change actions, and other coordinated measures to pressure hospital administrators to provide safe staffing before, during, and moving forward from the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

The federal legislation would establish minimum RN-to-patient ratios for every hospital unit, effective at all times. The bill also provides whistleblower protection to ensure that nurses are free to speak out to enforce safe staffing standards.

NNU said that the federal bill is mirrored after a California law, fought for and won in 1999 by the California Nurses Association/NNU. The law, which took effect in 2004, has saved patient lives, improved the quality of care, attracted nurses back to direct-care nursing, and reduced nurse burnout, keeping experienced RNs at the patient bedside.

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