Hospital safety should be a guarantee, not a gamble, legislators say
Michigan Safe Patient Care Act will solve nurse understaffing, save lives
State legislators are launching a new push to protect the lives and health of all Michigan residents by ensuring that hospitals provide enough nurses to give every patient safe, appropriate care. Responding to nurses’ pleas to fix hospitals’ chronic understaffing, State Rep. Jon Switalski (D-Warren) and State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) have introduced a plan to make Michigan the second state to require hospitals to have a comprehensive nurse staffing plan, including minimum nurse-patient ratios, to protect patients.
“Michigan residents who need medical care shouldn’t have to worry about whether the hospital will guarantee their safety or gamble with it,” said Switalski, sponsor of the Safe Patient Care Act (HB 4311) in the House. “Hospitals need to provide sufficient nurses to make sure every patient receives safe, quality care. It’s time for Michigan to make hospitals meet their obligation to put patient safety first.”
More than one-third of House lawmakers have co-sponsored the Safe Patient Care Act, which is sponsored by Warren in the Senate (SB 228).
The legislation would make Michigan the second state, after California, with a comprehensive plan that includes hospitals developing and filing staffing plans; minimum nurse-to-patient ratios per unit based on national standards; accountability measures; and a ban on mandatory nurse overtime except in emergencies.
Low nurse staffing has been linked to higher rates of medication errors and serious complications including pneumonia, falls, surgical site and bloodstream infections, and higher death rates. According to research:
- Patients in hospitals with higher staffing levels were 68 percent less likely to acquire an infection.1
- For each additional patient beyond four added to a nurse’s workload , the risk of death increases by 7 percent.2
- Patients are nearly 20 percent more likely to die of cardiac arrest on the night shift, when nurse staffing is lower.3
Scott Nesbit, RN, works in the recovery room at Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon and said understaffing is a frequent problem throughout the hospital.
“The hospital routinely cuts nurse staffing just to save a few bucks, even though nurses tell them it’s dangerous,” Nesbit said. “A hospital isn’t McDonald’s, where you just wait a little longer for your fries if the crew is short-handed; we’re talking about human lives. People can get very sick, very fast, and you have to have nurses ready to take care of them.”
Warren pointed out that studies show the potential for hospitals to save money by recouping their initial investment in staffing through reduced costs in lengths of stays, poor outcomes, new Medicare penalties for readmissions, and nurse overtime and turnover.
“The Legislature has a responsibility to put the health and safety of our citizens first,” Warren said. “The truth is that hospitals will save money in the long run by improving patient safety. And we all know that when one of us or our family members is in the hospital, we want nothing but the best care possible. This legislation will assure that care through a few simple, common-sense workplace protections.”
Jeff Breslin, RN, Michigan Nurses Association president, said the need for the Safe Patient Care Act is especially urgent, as nurses today are dealing with patients who are sicker and have more complex needs.
Michigan nurses are advocating even more aggressively for the legislation on behalf of their patients, including as part of the Michigan Nurses MARCH! lobby day on Wednesday.
“Safe nurse staffing can be a matter of life or death,” Breslin said. “Nurse-to-patient ratios have been a success story for patients in California and they can make a life-saving difference here in Michigan. Collective bargaining is the only tool that has given some nurses in Michigan the ability to negotiate for safe staffing, and with ‘right to work’ aiming to weaken that, it’s more important than ever to enact a state law to protect our patients.”
- 1 “Nurse Working Conditions and Patient Safety Outcomes,” Medical Care,Journal of the American Public Health Association, June 2007
- 2 “Hospital Nurse Staffing and Patient Mortality, Nurse Burnout, and Job Dissatisfaction,” Journal of the American Medical Association, Oct. 22, 2002
- 3 “Survival From In-Hospital Cardiac Arrest During Nights and Weekends,”Journal of the American Medical Association, February 20, 2008
For additional studies regarding the link between nurse staffing levels and patient safety, please seewww.minurses.org/safepatientcare.
The Michigan Nurses Association is the state’s largest and most effective union and professional association for registered nurses, representing nearly 11,000 RNs statewide and advocating for them and their patients.