Bill Would Mandate Nurse To Patient Ratios In Ohio's Hospitals

Feb 15, 2017
Originally published on February 15, 2017 5:18 pm

Hospital nurses sometimes complain they have too many patients under their care at one time to be able to give all of them the high-quality care they deserve. The nurses are hoping Ohio lawmakers will provide the cure for that problem.

Michelle Mahon is a registered nurse who works with National Nurses United, a group that advocates for registered nurses throughout the country. Her group is backing a bill put forward by Democratic Sen. Michael Skindell that would make sure registered nurses aren’t required to care for more patients than they can handle.

“This bill sets limits on how many patients a registered nurse may care for at any one time. Nurse-to-patient ratios are based on the seriousness of the condition being treated or medical procedure being performed. Ohio currently has no limits on how many patients a nurse can care for at any one time.”

California has had a similar law on the books since 2004. Mahon says it’s working in the Golden State.

“And no hospital has closed. No hospitals went bankrupt. More nurses came to the profession to work at the bedside and provide excellent care. And nurses now are satisfied with the care they are able to provide.”

But the lobbying group for hospitals isn’t convinced the bill is a good idea. The Ohio Hospital Association’s John Palmer says this legislation should be defeated.

“Mandated staffing ratios really restrict hospitals’ ability to adjust the needs of their patients. Fixed ratios improperly assume that I think all nurses share the same skill sets and they are simply interchangeable parts in the treatment of patients. Really hospitals need that flexibility to work collaboratively.”

Palmer says there’s another issue to consider here.

“There’s a nursing shortage currently going on. There’s been a lot of activity nationally and Ohio is not immune to that. There’s just a shortage occurring nationally right now and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are about 1.2 million vacancies that are occurring between 2014 and 2022 and so we are mindful of that.”

Mahon says there isn’t a nursing shortage per se – just a shortage of nurses who are willing to work in hospitals.

“Nursing is not, right now, working at the bedside, considered an attractive profession to nurses who are going to get bachelors and master’s degrees to care for patients and then they come and they are unable to use any of their expertise or knowledge because the hospital operates more like a factory. They’re not getting meal breaks in 12 hour shifts and they cannot go to the bathroom. This is deplorable conditions. What masters or bachelors educated person or even non accredited person would work in those conditions? Very few.”

In a written statement, Palmer says the nursing shortage is not specific to hospitals but also affects nursing homes, doctor’s offices, home health care and more. He says nurse staffing committees at hospitals make recommendations for staffing levels that provide both a safe working environment for employees and quality health care for patients. This bill would only affect registered nurses – not licensed practical nurses or medical assistants. And it’s facing an uphill challenge because it doesn’t have widespread bipartisan support at this point.

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