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Congress introduces federal nurse-to-patient staffing ratio bill

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | May 18, 2021
A new bill would limit the number of patients that RNs can care for at one time to ensure safe, quality care is delivered and avoid medical errors
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) have introduced the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act, which would set specific safety limits on the number of patients each RN can tend to in U.S. hospitals.

The aim behind the bill is to do away with the decades-long practice of forcing RNs to care for too many patients at the same time. “Evidence has demonstrated that RN staffing ratios prevent avoidable infections, injuries, and deaths. For this reason, the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act is critical legislation, and nurses across the country urge every member of Congress to support this bill,” said Jean Ross, RN and president of the union National Nurses United (NNU), in a statement.

The legislation would create minimum RN-to-patient ratios for every hospital unit that would be effective at all times. It also would provide whistleblower protection so that nurses can freely speak out and enforce safe staffing standards.
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Its inspiration is a California law enacted in 2004 that has been found to improve quality of care, attract nurses back to direct-care nursing, reduce nurse burnout and keep experienced RNs at the patient bedside. The introduction of the federal bill comes amid virtual rallies, shift-changing actions and other coordinated measures carried out by the NNU to push hospital administrators to provide safe staffing before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new study out of Australia and published this month in The Lancet also supports its enactment, finding that establishing nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in hospitals saved lives, prevented readmissions, shortened hospital stays and reduced costs.

“Too often, nurses are stretched too thin, caring for too many patients with not enough support,” said Senator Brown. “We can prevent that by ensuring nurses are adequately staffed, and protecting their ability to go to hospital management, without fearing potential retaliation.”

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