Nurses across the state of New York are breathing a sigh of relief now that the “Safe Staffing Act” is finally going into effect. The law passed the state legislature during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way of strengthening the healthcare system and easing the burden placed on NY nurses after years of systemic staff shortages.
“There shall be a minimum of one registered professional nurse assigned to care for every two patients that an attending practitioner determines to require intensive or critical care,” the state Public Health and Health Planning Council announced several days before it is expected to approve the regulation.
The law provides much-needed relief to ICU and critical care nurses in the state. A 2021 study found that NY hospitals average one nurse per six patients, which is higher than the recommended ratio of one nurse for every four patients.
But the law doesn’t apply to all departments in the state’s 212 hospitals, only critical care and intensive care units, which was seen as a compromise. It also requires each facility to create a “staffing committee” to be made up of half nurses and half hospital administrators that will negotiate lower patient ratios in non-critical care settings.
“The proposed clinical staffing requirement codifies standard industry practice and places patient health and safety first,” state Health Department spokesman Cort Ruddy told the NY Post. “The proposed regulation allows each hospital to collaboratively develop clinical staffing plans with nurses and other staff, and this hospital-by-hospital approach will enable facilities to balance what is best for the patient and workforce while taking into account the varying needs of each individual hospital.”
The law is just one part of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s multi-year plan to overhaul the state’s health system, which includes $20 billion for facilities struggling to bounce back from the pandemic.
Shortly after taking office in 2021, her administration approved an increase in overtime pay at three state university-hospitals to help retain and recruit more nurses in the state. Nurses are now eligible for double pay during OT instead of time and a half. The package also includes student loan repayment relief for qualifying healthcare workers and bonuses for mental and medical hygiene.
“New York State’s health care heroes have worked tirelessly and put their lives on the line throughout this terrible pandemic, and they should be compensated properly for their efforts,” the governor said at the time.
“This vital agreement will increase overtime pay for our overworked health care professionals at SUNY hospitals and help to recognize them for their public service. We owe healthcare professionals and hospital employees that have kept the doors open an enormous debt of gratitude for their work during this pandemic and this will move New York a small step in the right direction on compensation.”
Over 600,000 NY nurses have already received $3,000 bonuses for a total of $1.6 billion.
The law is not without its critics. Some hospital administrators say the requirement is impractical because it will force hospitals to hire travel nurses to help fill in the gaps.