For the first time in Pennsylvania history, the governor has been supportive of efforts for nurse-to-patient staffing laws that would set a maximum number of patients for a nurse to care for at once. Additionally, bills have been co-sponsored in both the Pennsylvania House and Senate that would codify nurse-to-patient ratios across all hospitals in the state. Across the United States, 14 states have laws that address nurse staffing. However, California is the only state that’s law specifies a ratio for each type of hospital unit. The other laws either leave the choice to hospital committees or mandate that these ratios are disclosed publicly.
Understaffed hospitals pose a real threat to patient safety, especially in intensive care units. Also, according to one study, 90% of nurses who work in hospitals are considering quitting their job. These high turnover rates are expensive, costing United States hospitals $9 billion each year. Having a mandated ratio could take some of the strain off nurses and potentially reduce the high turnover rates, which could save hospitals, and possibly consumers, a lot of money. Supporters of nurse-to-patient ratio laws argue that in California, the only state with a similar law, the costs of hiring more nurses are offset by fewer nurses quitting due to stress. Training new nurses to work in a specific unit costs money and takes of resources that could be going toward patient care, and hospitals actually save money because of how effective the nurse-to-patient law has been in reducing the turnover rate.
However, opponents of the idea argue that there isn’t enough research regarding the benefits of front-loading nursing staff. Scheduling could become rigid and difficult to manage, while the cost of care might increase. Additionally, they argue that there aren’t enough nurses to fill the staffing requirements that a nurse-to-patient ratio law would require.
The issue is far from straight-forward. In most of the states where laws have been passed regarding this issue, a compromise between nurses and hospitals has been created by lawmakers. For instance, in Illinois, where a committee approach to staffing is used as opposed to a ratio mandate, only 24.5% of committees reported an improvement in staffing and patient care. At least half the members of each committee must be registered nurses in practice, but staffing shortages were not addressed much of the time, as 45% of those surveyed felt like the committee made no difference in staffing or patient care.
Regardless of the practicality or feasibility of nurse-to-patient staffing in Pennsylvania, one thing is certain: nurses deserve to work in a safe environment and patients deserve to have the highest standard of care possible. If you were injured while working as a nurse and are not getting the benefits you deserve, contact The Law Office of Hall & Copetas today to schedule a free legal consultation.