Nurses Take DC in Fight Against Understaffing


On April 25-26, almost 2000 nurses will descend on Washington DC to fight for legislation that would establish fair nurse-to-patient ratios.

Understaffing is a chronic problem in medical institutions, particularly among the nursing staff. Nurses are often asked to cover more patients than they should be handling in a shift, which leads to medical errors and nurse burnout. On April 25-26, almost 2000 nurses will descend on Washington DC to fight for legislation that would establish fair nurse-to-patient ratios.

Laura Gasparis Vonfrolio, RN, PhD, ran the first march with 35,000 nurses in 1995. The event was revived last year by the organization Show Me Your Stethoscope, and drew roughly 1000 attendees.

After a day of legislative education and networking, the #NursesTakeDC Safe Staffing Rally will be held on April 26 at the US Capitol Building between 10:30 am to 2:30 pm. The rally supports House Bill 2392 & Senate Bill 1063, the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act of 2017, which is designed to establish federally mandated requirements for nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in acute care hospitals. After the rally, attendees will meet with their local legislators and staff to present their cause.

A Congressional Research Service summary of the bill explains that it “amends the Public Health Service Act to require hospitals to implement and submit to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) a staffing plan that complies with specified minimum nurse-to-patient ratios by unit.” Hospitals would be required to post a notice about ratios in each unit and maintain records of actual ratios for each shift in each unit. In addition, the bill proposes that Medicare cover additional costs incurred in providing services to Medicare beneficiaries that are attributable to compliance with these ratios.

The bill cites numerous studies that have shown that patient outcomes are directly correlated to direct care registered nurse staffing levels. Specifically, a 2010 Health Services Research study concluded that implementation of minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in California has led to improved patient outcomes and nurse retention. A 2014 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality study concluded that increases in nurse staffing and skill mix would lead to improved quality and reduced length of stay at no additional cost.

According to a study published in BJM in 2016, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center determined that, if the coding system used by Centers for Disease Control required death certificate data to capture communication breakdowns, diagnostic errors, and poor judgment that cost lives, then medical errors would rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States.

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