Registered nurses, whether employed by a big teaching hospital of a small community facility in the commonwealth, are the backbone of patient care, every and night, during hurricanes, blizzards and the pandemic. Part of their sacred pledge is to provide the safest and highest quality of compassionate nursing care to their patients.
However, this pledge is being compromised as hospitals are requiring them to care for too many patients. This is why Massachusetts nurses are demanding the passage of legislation that would require each hospital to adhere to nurse staffing ratios that limit the number of patients a nurse can care for.
The bill, An Act Promoting Patient Safety and Equitable Access to Care was filed this week by state Sen. Lydia Edwards, D-Boston and Rep. Natalie Higgins, D-Leominster.
The proposed law would require the state Department of Public Health to take the question of whether limits should be set, and at what level, directly to the public in a series of hearings it would schedule around the state.
If anyone is more committed to patient care and safety, it’s our nurses which is why legislators must trust their judgement on this nurse staffing crisis. The proposed legislation is sorely needed as our hospital nurses are burned out from the pandemic.
Nurses today, whether they work in surgical recovery, maternity, the ER, behavioral health, a medical floor or ICU, are caring for more patients, many of whom are sicker with complex medical challenges requiring more bedside care and the monitoring of sophisticated medical technologies. This staffing problem also adds to burnout and is causing too many nurses to leave hospital nursing.
Last year, 8 out of 10 registered nurses in Massachusetts surveyed believe that patient care has gotten worse over the past two years due to nurse understaffing of patient care units. This often prevents nurses from following best nursing practices designed to provide the optimum of nursing care. As evidence of this serious quality of care issue, the Massachusetts Nurses Association reported that in 2002, an alarming 8,000 plus nursing complaints were filed about unsafe patient care conditions at Mass hospitals. They were filed because nurses care about their patients and have enormous credibility on this issue, as evidenced by a recent Gallop poll which showed that Americans, by overwhelming margins, trust nurses more than any other profession, including doctors and hospital administrators. Legislators must now listen to their cry for help.
A study by the nursing leaders at the University of Pennsylvania reported that if New York implemented minimum nursing staffing ratios, 4,000 deaths would have been prevented and hospitals would have saved saved $700 million in medical costs over two years.
The time has now arrived for hospital executives and trustees to pay attention to their nurses and support the safe staffing legislation. They need to remember that nurses put the patient first in everything they do. Hospital leaders and trustees must do the same. Patients’ lives depend on it.
Billerica resident Rick Pozniak has held executive positions at hospitals, the Mass Hospital Association and a national nursing association. He also served on a patient advisory board at an academic medical center