Illinois lawmakers push for mandatory nurse staffing ratios

Illinois lawmakers have introduced a bill that would mandate specific patient-to-nurse ratios in hospitals.

Limiting the number of patients assigned to nurses at Illinois hospitals could potentially save lives. Lawmakers in the state have drafted legislation to help, but one medical professional said the proposed bill is lacking a crucial element.

Catherine Ryan, clinical associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Nursing, said nurses with a high number of patients assigned to them are exhausted, which makes it difficult to manage patients.

House Bill 2604 would only allow a nurse to have two patients assigned to them if they work in a unit with critical care patients. Nurses working in units with intermediate care patients can only be assigned up to three patients. Under existing state law, there is no limit on the number of patients a nurse can treat at one time.

Ryan said the proposed legislation doesn’t look at the variation in patient activity throughout a 24-hour period and that’s a problem.

“Patients are not all created equal,” Ryan said. “Some need a lot more attention than others and we need to look at that. The situation changes from minute to minute.”

Ryan said this legislation also doesn’t differentiate between work shifts and that is problematic.

“On a medical-surgical unit where patients sleep most of the night, do we need one nurse sitting there waiting to see if one of their four patients will wake up?” Ryan said.

Ryan said Illinois already has a system that addresses some patient-to-nurse ratio issues.

“We have in Illinois a patient acuity system, which is a way to rank the patients’ individual needs, and I think that could be used more efficiently than just saying four patients for one nurse because all four patients are different,” Ryan said.

Ryan said larger Illinois hospitals recruit nurses from all over the country in an effort to prevent staff shortages.

Ryan said during the last nursing shortage, potential hires were offered cars and free relocation. That hasn’t happened as of yet, but hospitals are trying to help their nurses cope with high patient ratios, according to Ryan.

“Hospitals have looked very carefully at their staff mix and are trying to provide more assisted personnel for the registered nurses that are working, so it’s not quite so difficult to accomplish everything that they need to accomplish,” Ryan said.

The Illinois Nurses Association supports the bill.

“Safe Patient Limits are safer for patients and nurses. On a medical-surgical unit, for each patient over four an RN is assigned, the likelihood of death increases by 7%,” INA Executive Director Alice Johnson said in a statement.

The Illinois Health and Hospital Association opposes the bill. The association said a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work and that mandated staffing laws could do more harm than good, according to the group’s website.

15-Health,01-All No Sub,02-Pol,19-Legal,24-ILGA,26-Delivered,E Lazare Team,HL,HL New,RKPRS HL

Region: Statewide,Politics

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March 30, 2019 at 02:30PM

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