Help keep nurses at the bedside

Have you or a loved one had to seek care at an emergency room recently? If so, did you debate whether you really needed to go, dreading the likely long wait time?

You are not alone. Unless you are being brought into the emergency room by ambulance or with complaints of severe chest pain, you are likely to experience significant wait times. You will wait to be seen and evaluated by a provider. You will wait for the treatment prescribed, whether it be X-rays, blood work, antibiotics and/or pain medication. And in the event you need to be admitted to the hospital, you will wait for a bed to become available. 

Why all this waiting? Remember the heroes? The nurses who risked their lives working on the front lines of the COVID pandemic, while the rest of the world stayed home and stayed safe? They are tired and they are broken and they are leaving the bedside in droves. The nurses who stayed are facing dangerous physical and emotional burdens. They are working longer shifts and they are working short staffed. 

A plan is needed to ensure we keep nurses at the bedside and we keep patients safe. Requiring hospitals to maintain safe staffing levels may be the answer.

According to the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, safe staffing in hospitals can reduce nurse burnout by 30%. Nurses who have the time and energy to care for their patients report higher levels of job satisfaction and provide better, uninterrupted patient care.

Mandated patient nurse ratios have the ability to drastically improve nurse retention and recruitment. The issue with understaffing is not that there aren’t enough nurses, the issue is that not enough nurses are willing to work in today’s current working conditions. Applications for nursing licenses increased by more than 60% and vacancies for registered nurses in hospitals plummeted by 69% in California the year California’s safe patient nurse law went into effect. 

When nurses are assigned to care for too many patients, research has proven that patients are being put at risk. In fact, the odds of a patient dying increase by 7% for each additional patient a nurse must take care of. Alternatively, lower patient-to-nurse staffing ratios are associated with significantly lower patient mortality and number of preventable complications such as patient falls, medication errors and infections.

Opponents of safe patient-nurse ratios always point to cost. But the truth of the matter is the cost of constantly replacing and retraining nurses and the cost of treating preventable infections and injuries is not nominal. The average cost to replace one registered nurse is over $80,000. Hospital-acquired pressure ulcers, a preventable complication that occurs when nurses do not have the time to turn patients every 2 hours, have been estimated to cost $8.5 billion a year alone.

Pennsylvania needs legislation to ensure patient safety and nurse retention in our hospitals, which has the potential to reduce those way-too-long emergency room wait times. The Patient Safety Act (HB 106) (SB 240) is exactly that. This bill will limit the number of patients a nurse can care for at one time, depending on the level of care required. The limits will be set by nurses, ensuring all patients in Pennsylvania receive the care they deserve.  

As a registered nurse, I am asking for your help. Please contact your state lawmakers today and ask them to support The Patient Safety Act (HB 106) (SB240). Letters of support targeted at your local representative would be greatly appreciated. But even easier, the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association is in full support of this bill and has set up an easily accessible link to send an email of support to your government officials. Type into your browser to send an email of support.

Together, we can keep nurses at the bedside and improve patient care for all Pennsylvanians. 

Lisa DiCicco is a registered nurse and Northeast Philadelphia resident pursuing her Adult Nurse Practitioner at the University of Pennsylvania.