Some one million nurses with active RN licenses are not working due to unsafe working conditions, according to National Nurses United, the largest nursing union in the country. Nurses have been organizing to get federal lawmakers to pass a bill that would set minimum nurse-patient ratios for every department in every hospital in the country. The bill, known as The Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act, was authored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in the Senate and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09) in the House. It is set to be introduced today during a press conference.
National Nurses United has been gathering support for the bill as it makes the rounds in Congress. The union refutes the claim that the U.S. is in the middle of a nursing shortage when there are so many licensed providers sitting on the sidelines. The union believes limiting how many patients each nurse can be assigned will bring more workers back into the fold.
“This staffing crisis was manufactured by the hospital industry,” said Deborah Burger, RN and an NNU president. “Hospital executives claim there is a nursing ‘shortage’ but we know that many nurses have left the bedside because they are unwilling to risk their patients’ lives by being forced to care for them in an unsafe manner. This bill would bring them back to providing direct care at the bedside and in clinics by ensuring their patients receive proper, safe, optimal, and timely care.”
“The bill’s introduction is a direct response to the escalating staffing crisis in hospitals across the country. Tens of thousands of nurses have spoken out, marched, and struck for safer patient care conditions over the last year, sounding a clarion call for action. Nurses know the quality of our healthcare system is on the line and depends on the passage of this bill,” Burger continued.
The bill would also provide whistleblower protections for nurses who feel the need to speak out about unsafe working conditions.
“Numerous studies have shown that safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios result in higher quality care for patients, lower health care costs, and an overall better workplace for nurses. For years, I’ve talked to exhausted nurses who have said they go home at night, wondering if they forgot to turn a patient because they were stretched far too thin,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky.
“The need for federal safe staffing standards is about nurses, patients, and everyone’s lives,” the lawmaker added. “This bill will improve the health of patients by improving nursing care—establishing minimum registered nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals, providing whistleblower protection for nurses who advocate on behalf of their patients, and investing in training and career development to retain hard-working nurses in the workforce. It is past time that we act on the evidence and give nurses the support they deserve and put patients over profits. Let’s get it done!”
The bill is modeled after the nurse-patient ratio law in California, which went into effect in 2004. That law sets strict limits for how many patients each type of nurse can be assigned at one time. The National Institute of Health found that California nurses cared for one less patient on average than nurses in states where these restrictions were not in place. Lower ratios were also associated with significantly lower mortality. When nurses’ workloads were in line with California-mandated ratios in California, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, nurses’ burnout and job dissatisfaction were lower, and nurses reported consistently better quality of care.
Proponents say signing the bill into law on the federal level would save countless lives. A 2021 study found that if New York had passed a similar safe staffing law, 4,370 lives would have been saved that year alone.
“Workers are the first line of defense keeping Ohioans safe, including in our hospitals,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown. “Nurses work long hours doing vital work in our healthcare system, but too often they’re stretched too thin, caring for too many patients with too little support. We can empower nurses to protect Ohio patients by ensuring nurses are adequately staffed and can advocate for their patients without fearing potential retaliation.”