Nurses ‘Go Public’ To Highlight Staffing Concerns
The Dec. 20 Chicago Tribune reports on how nurses and nurse unions across the country are engaging in "new, aggressive activism" to draw attention to how "inadequate" staffing levels adversely affect patient care. Nursing advocates "generally" recommend one RN per eight patients on general hospital floors, but hospitals "routinely" order nurses to care for 15 or more patients, the Tribune says. The paper, which in September ran a three-day series examining the nursing shortage and its link to medical errors, reports that nurses are beginning to take protests over staffing and mandatory overtime to the streets and state legislatures -- a "raucous" approach that breaks the profession's traditional "code of silence." Led by unions such as the California Nurses Association and the American Nurses Association, nurses are attending classes on how "to become activists." In a tactic "as unorthodox as it is controversial," the California Nurses Association is also encouraging nurses to complete incident reports on "substandard care linked to inadequate staffing" that will be compiled into a database and released next year. Other unions have established telephone hotlines for the public to "recount their experiences" and are "recruiting patients" to help lobbying efforts.
State Legislatures Take Up the Cause
The Tribune reports that for the last decade, hospitals have successfully "fended off" state-level efforts to regulate nurse staffing levels, saying that nurse-to-patient staffing ratios must remain flexible as they are dependent on the number of patients and "severity of illnesses" at any given time. But "in a testament to the growing influence of the nation's 2.6 million registered nurses," lawmakers in some two dozen states have begun to draft staffing laws. Earlier this year California passed the first nurse-to-patient ratio law. The federal government has also established nurse staffing requirements for nursing homes, requiring facilities to have at least one RN on duty at all times (Berens, Chicago Tribune, 12/20).