- A federal nurse staffing law to set minimum nurse to patient ratios for all hospital units will be considered by lawmakers after the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted concerns around healthcare staff workloads and labor shortages.
- On Thursday, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said they are reintroducing the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act, which would also protect nurses who speak out against unsafe staffing standards.
- The bill mirrors California’s nurse staffing law, which outlines exactly how many patients a nurse in specific hospital units can care for at once. It was previously introduced in the Senate in 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the struggles of front-line healthcare workers including long-standing issues like staffing shortages and burnout.
Some workers have taken action through union organizing, picketing and strikes to secure new contracts with terms to quell challenges — especially regarding staffing levels.
National Nurses United is among the unions lobbying for federal staffing standards, arguing that safer conditions are needed to keep nurses from “leaving the healthcare field in droves” and making the crisis worse for workers who remain, NNU President Deborah Burger said at a Thursday press conference.
An NNU survey of 2,800 union members conducted in September and November, showed about 57% said staffing has gotten slightly or much worse at their hospitals.
Nearly half said their facility is using excessive overtime to keep units adequately staffed, and more than half said they are considering leaving nursing, according to that survey.
About one million registered nurses with active licenses are not practicing today, Burger said.
“It's not because they don't love nursing — they don't love the stress, they don't love putting their patients at risk, and they don't love going home every day fearing that they had harmed someone,” Burger said.
Some states have passed their own nurse staffing laws during the pandemic.
New York passed a staffing law that stipulates hospitals from clinical staffing committees that include front-line nurses and other direct care staff when setting annual staffing standards for units.
Colorado also passed a staffing law that similarly required hospitals to form their own nurse staffing committees tasked with setting staffing plans.
Hospitals and their lobbies have previously opposed legislation mandating nurse staffing ratios, saying a one-size-fits all approach would harm flexibility and facilities’ operations.