Press Release

RNs Applaud Introduction of Federal Legislation to Mandate Number of Patients Assigned to Nurses

Nurses hold signs "Safe Staffing Now"

National Nurses United (NNU) today applauds the introduction of the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act, a federal bill that would set specific safety limits on the numbers of patients each RN can care for in hospitals throughout the United States.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), comes as NNU has been holding virtual rallies, shift-change actions and other coordinated measures to pressure hospital administrators to provide safe staffing before, during, and moving forward from the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. The federal legislation would establish minimum RN-to-patient ratios for every hospital unit, effective at all times. The bill also provides whistleblower protection to ensure that nurses are free to speak out for enforcement of safe staffing standards.

The legislation offers a remedy to the decades-long, industry-wide, routine practice  of forcing RNs to care for too many patients at one time. Higher patient assignments have been linked to  higher risk of preventable medical errors, avoidable complications, falls and injuries, pressure sores, increased length of stay, readmissions,  and higher death rates.

In addition to issues with patient care, unsafe staffing levels contribute to higher RN burnout rates and job dissatisfaction.

“Safe staffing levels are critically important to ensure patients are properly and safely taken care of at a health care facility,” said Jean Ross, RN and an NNU president. “Evidence has demonstrated that RN staffing ratios prevent avoidable infections, injuries, and deaths. For this reason, the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act is critical legislation, and nurses across the country urge every member of Congress to support this bill.”

The federal bill is mirrored after a California law, fought for and won in 1999 by the California Nurses Association/NNU. The law, which took effect in 2004, has saved patient lives, improved the quality of care, attracted nurses back to direct-care nursing, and reduced nurse burnout, keeping experienced RNs at the patient bedside.

“Nurses worked long hours, doing vital work in our health care system, even before this once-in-a-generation pandemic. They have been on the frontlines of this crisis for more than a year now, and they deserve our support,” Sen. Brown said. “Their jobs are critical to keeping patients safe and providing the highest quality care. But too often, nurses are stretched too thin, caring for too many patients with not enough support. We can prevent that by ensuring nurses are adequately staffed, and protecting their ability to go to hospital management, without fearing potential retaliation.”

“This National Nurses Week and in celebration of our frontline nurses and heroes on International Nurses Day, I am proud to reintroduce the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act with my friend Senator Brown,” said Rep. Schakowsky. “Safe staffing levels save lives and contribute to lower patient mortality rates. Numerous studies have shown that safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios result in higher quality care for patients, lower health care costs, and a better workplace for nurses. This bill will improve the health of patients by improving nursing care—establishing minimum registered nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals, providing whistleblower protections to nurses who advocate on behalf of their patients, and investing in training and career development to retain hard-working nurses in the workforce.”

National Nurses United is the largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses in the United States with more than 170,000 members nationwide.