From coast to coast, nurses push for staffing level legislation

The goal of Oregon Senate Bill 469 is to keep hospitals adequately staffed, so as to not jeopardize patient care. The bill, proposed by the state's largest union, would grant nurses the same amount of say as administrators in setting their staffing levels.

Understaffing in Oregon hospitals has been a "longstanding problem," Rep. Bill Kennemer (Oregon City), the bill's sole GOP sponsor, told the Register-Guard

"Everybody at some point is going to end up in the hospital. We want to ensure that they receive the best possible care," said Sarah Baessler, a lobbyist for the Oregon Nurses Association,  FierceHealthCare previously reported. "There's a lot of interest and momentum right now." 

Indeed, and not just in Oregon.

In New Jersey, State Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D-Woodbridge), chair of the Senate Health Committee, is sponsoring S1183, a bill that would mandate one registered professional nurse for every six patients on a medical/surgical unit.

The bill was supported by nurses and opposed by hospitals at a legislative hearing in Trenton, NJBiz reported. Some nurses in the state have resigned due to understaffing issues, which they see as threatening to patient safety, according to the publication.

Neil Eicher, vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Hospital Association told NJ BIz that state hospitals are improving patient safety without the bill. The hospital association estimates the bill would cost $159 million annually.

But proponents argued that research and experience demonstrates that safe nurse staffing ratios lead to better patient outcomes, better nurse retention and a cost savings for hospitals. That appears to be the case with pediatrics, according to a 2013 study in BMJ Quality and Safety in Health Care, which found a direct link between nursing staff ratios and hospital readmissions for children with common medical and surgical conditions, FierceHealthcare previously reported. 

Thirteen states have rules regarding staff-to-patient ratios,  according to the American Nurse Association, which calls for the need of an appropriate number and mix of nursing staff in order to deliver quality patient care. It's website also links to numerous studies that find better patient outcomes are related to a higher level staffing. 

But a Minnesota study on the nurse-patient ratio needed for effective safe patient outcomes returned insufficient data, FierceHealthcare previously reported. The mixed results were blamed on a lack of hospital participation, however the Minnesota Hospital Association said its members cooperated with the study but lacked the data to fully participate. 

State Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger, M.D. said the existing research shows no cause and effect or immediate need for more nurses.

Last spring, Massachusetts legislation that would lower nurse-to-patient ratios ignited a battle between hospital officials and nurses' unions, FierceHealthcare previously reported. But the Governor signed a compromise bill that established nurse staffing levels in intensive care units in all the state's hospitals

To learn more:
- here's Oregon Senate Bill 469
- here's New Jersey S1183
- check out the Massachusetts bill
- check out the Register-Guard article
- read the NJBiz article