Measure for safe nurse staffing limits introduced in Congress

Legislation to set safe staffing limits for nurses introduced during National Nurses Week gives nurses more reasons to celebrate. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) reintroduced the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act in Congress on May 8.

Staffing-Stock photo

The bill would set minimum nurse-to-patient staffing requirements, study best practices for nurse staffing, and provide whistleblower protections to protect the right of nurses to advocate for the safety of their patients.

Rick Lucas, a critical care nurse and member of the Ohio Nurses Association, sees the impact of unsafe staffing levels every day: “I’ve watched too many colleagues stressed, depressed, injured and eventually forced to leave a job they love because they aren't given the needed support to do their jobs well.”

To date, California is the only state with a law mandating nurse-to-patient ratios. There are no federal laws that establish minimum staffing levels at hospitals, even though studies have shown that lower nurse-to-patient ratios are associated with lower mortality rates.

“Nurses work long hours doing vital work in our healthcare system—their jobs are critical to keeping patients safe and providing the highest quality care,” says Sen. Brown. “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.”

Having safeguards put in place to make sure that healthcare workers feel empowered to speak up when dangerous staffing levels are present is just as important as established staffing levels, says Lucas. “All too often, speaking up for our patients and co-workers can lead to punishment.”

The fear of speaking up by advocating for safer nurse-to-patient ratios is a threat to nurse safety and is ultimately a threat to patient health, says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Safe, welcoming workplaces are crucial for every member of our union, and for the people we serve.”

[Adrienne Coles]