Pa. nurses seek state regulation of staffing levels

    The battle over nurse staffing levels has long been between labor interests and hospital administrators. Now, Pennsylvania nurses are pushing Harrisburg to step into the fray.

     

    Studies have shown that hospitals with too few nurses tend to have poorer patient outcomes—higher rates of pneumonia, shock, cardiac arrest and even death.

     

    The battle over staffing levels has long been between labor interests and hospital administrators. Now, Pennsylvania nurses are pushing Harrisburg to step into the fray.

    Lawmakers this fall may consider two dueling proposals on staffing levels for nurses. One would require hospitals to stick to minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, from one-to-two in intensive care to one-to-five in a nursery.

    Maureen May, a registered nurse and president of the nurses’ union at Temple University Hospital, said she supports mandated minimum ratios.

    “I know what a nurse goes through on a daily basis. You have emergencies happen, the patients are sicker today, and you’re continuously running around and being interrupted,” May said. “We do the best we can, but if we had the mandated ratios, we know that we’re in a better position to do a better job for our patients.”

    The legislation is modeled on a law adopted in California; proponents say it would save lives here. But others say mandated ratios are inflexible and do not take into account, for instance, how sick patients are. They say mandated ratios could lead to a reduction in support staff to keep the number of registered nurses up.

    The Pennsylvania State Nurses Association is pushing for a different fix. It advocates legislation that would require committees made up of administrators and nurses to determine staffing. These committees already exist in many hospitals. Some, such as May, say they are too concerned with the bottom line.

    CEO Betsy Snook said the model PSNA wants would give nurses more power by increasing their representation in these committees.

    “We’re saying, make the mix different,” Snook said. “The mix is 50 percent or more direct registered nurses, those taking care of the patients at the bedside, and then the decisions from that committee come from the people working at the bedside with the patients.”

    Seven states currently have such committee-based provisions.

    Similar bills have been introduced, and languished, in Pennsylvania before.

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