Federal bill aims to protect patient care by addressing hospital staffing

Members of Congress are redoubling their efforts to pass legislation to protect patient care by addressing the hospital staffing problem. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) reintroduced the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act on March 30 at a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol, where dozens of supporters gathered, including members of AFT's Nurse and Health Professionals program and policy council.

healthcare members rally for safe staffing

The bill recognizes the importance of adequate nurse staffing to improve patient outcomes, reduce avoidable adverse events, and help hospitals recruit and retain nurses. To accomplish these improvements, the bill sets minimum nurse-to-patient staffing requirements for direct-care registered nurses, mandates a study of the staffing requirements for direct-care licensed practical nurses, and gives whistleblower protections. 

“We’re talking about making the patients safer ... saving lives in hospitals when we have enough nurses. It's really as simple as that,” said Rep. Schakowsky.

“Our healthcare workforce is in crisis. Dangerous working conditions are impairing patient care and creating more stress and burnout for our nurses and other healthcare professionals. They care for our communities, and it’s time we care for them,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “It’s long past time that we get this done,” she said of the bill.  “We're hearing from nurses and health professionals that they want to make a difference in patients’ lives,” but Weingarten noted that to do so, safe staffing is necessary. She highlighted the AFT's Code Red Campaign, which was created to help healthcare workers zero in on the issue of inadequate staffing and hold healthcare corporations and government accountable through education, outreach, advocacy, contract bargaining and legislation.

“This legislation is truly historic and long overdue; for our nation to have nurse-to-patient ratios codified in state statute would be unprecedented,” said Tamie Cline, president of the Oregon Nurses Association. “Simply put, this legislation, once passed, will create safe staffing across the nation, protect our nurses and help to significantly address the staffing crisis we face daily.”

Debbie White, president of New Jersey’s Health Professionals and Allied Employees, agreed. “We stand behind the safe staffing legislation introduced by Rep. Schakowsky and Sen. Brown as a solution to the current staffing crisis in healthcare,” said White, an AFT vice president. “We have had close to 20 years to see the enormous benefits of the California staffing legislation. Safe staffing saves money, saves lives, and can save healthcare.”

There are 55 lawmakers who have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation.

[Adrienne Coles]