Pennsylvania nurses and their allies in organized labor and the General Assembly rally on the steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday, May 2, 2023 (Capital-Star photo).
By Eileen Kelly and Claudia Crane
The Patient Safety Act, which would set a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio for all Pennsylvania Hospitals, could go a floor vote in the Pennsylvania House as early as this week. We urge its passage.
Currently, there is no numeric staffing standard for nurses in Pennsylvania hospitals, thus no limit on the number of patients that can be assigned to a nurse’s care at any given time.
Research has shown that patients in better staffed hospitals have fewer complications, fewer infections, fewer falls and injuries. They don’t die as frequently, either.
Meanwhile, many surveys show that insufficient staffing is the number one concern for bedside nurses–more important than salary or benefits.
Nurses want, more than anything else, to be able to take care of their patients. Improved nurse-patient ratios are a common item in contract negotiations. But rather than a piecemeal fight within each hospital (unionized or not, and most hospitals in Pennsylvania are not unionized), we say let’s protect all patients across our state by encoding in law a minimum nurse-to-patient staffing standard.
Opponents of the Patient Safety Act claim that there aren’t enough nurses for mandates to work and that strict enforcement of staffing standards could lead to hospital closures.
A 2022 Fox News report revealed that in 2020 only 57% of Pennsylvania’s licensed nurses were working in nursing. After California enacted its version of the Patient Safety Act in 2004, nurses there who had left bedside nursing returned, and nurses from other states applied for California licenses and came to work there.
And we have seen no evidence of that hospitals in California closed as a result of their Patient Safety Act. We are confident that California’s experience is evidence that many of Pennsylvania’s licensed nurses will want to return to the bedside once the Patient Safety Act is enacted, and that nurses in neighbor states will choose to come to work here.
And critics warn that staffing mandates could result in longer wait times for emergency care as well as in other hospital units. We believe the opposite is true: the Patient Safety Act will serve to decrease wait times; once the ER and other units of the hospital meet staffing standards called for in the bill, more staff will create the conditions for patient flow to improve.
Finally, critics complain that the Patient Safety Act would mandate a one-size-fits-all staffing standard.
They’re right—and that’s appropriate! Patients suffering chest pain need and deserve the same level of professional nurse evaluation, surveillance and interventions no matter what hospital they go to. A heart attack is a heart attack, and a patient suffering one shouldn’t die because the hospital nearest them doesn’t have enough nurses.
Eileen Kelly and Claudia Crane are retired registered nurses, respectively from northwestern Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. They write on behalf of the nurse network Nurses of Pennsylvania, which is fighting for passage of the Patient Safety Act.
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