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The Scoop on the Registered Nurse Staffing Bill

Photo by: British Red Cross (Flickr)

In recent posts, I've talked briefly about the Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act of 2013. This important Act has the potential to save lives, so I'd like to take a moment to discuss the legislation in more detail. Serious circumstances brought about this bill, and we can only hope that Congress will understand how critical it is to pass it. What is the Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act of 2013? Allow me to give you the scoop on this industry-changing legislation.

As you know, nursing is an extremely stressful career. We work long hours, work a tremendous amount of overtime, and have too many patients under our care, all of which makes us too tired. Nearly all jobs have a certain level of fatigue associated with them, but nursing fatigue is becoming a critically high phenomenon within our industry. And, when nurses get fatigued, their patients suffer.

Many businesses are short-staffed these days due to America's economic depression, but many businesses are also not responsible for saving people's lives. A recent survey revealed some shocking statistics in our field of nursing. The nurses surveyed reported that only half of them have adequate time with each patient because two out of five care units are short-staffed, and one out of three staffing levels are inadequately staffed. But that's not all…

Forty-three percent of nurses have experienced an increase in overtime at their jobs. An additional 54 percent reported excessive workloads. Seventy-seven percent of America's nurses work twelve-hour shifts, and - are you ready - 96 out of 100 nurses reported they were fatigued at the beginning of their scheduled shift… the beginning. These statistics are horrific for nurses and their patients.

Everyone makes mistakes, including nurses. It's doubtful, however, that daily mistakes in many careers carry the significant ramifications a nursing mistake has the potential of carrying. Studies show that nursing fatigue is a direct cause of medical mistakes that have cost patients their lives. Nurses cannot afford to make mistakes, because oftentimes those mistakes have critical results. Nurses can no longer be fatigued.

The Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act of 2013 has brought this critical issue to the attention of Congress, and it is sponsored by two House Representatives, one of whom happens to be a nurse. Representatives David Joyce and Lois Capps have put their stamp of approval on our Act, and have emphasized the need for such legislation, particularly as we now enter into a time when our baby boomers are living longer and requiring additional medical care. So what does the Nurse Safe Staffing Act of 2013 propose? Let's look.

If Congress passes our Act, hospitals will be required to establish committees with the purpose of evaluating individual hospital units and assessing the nurse staffing requirements per unit. The staffing of each unit will be based on the number of patients and the level of care in each unit, the experience and skill levels of the registered nurses assigned to each unit, and the number of support staff from which the RNs can pull. The technological resources available in each unit will also be taken into consideration for adequate staffing.

Medicare hospitals will be required to release their unit staffing plans to the public. These hospitals will no longer be free to “float” nurses to units where they are not adequately skilled to aid in patient care. If hospitals are not following the regulations the Act will impose upon them, they will be held accountable, including monetarily where necessary, for any claims or complaints regarding nurse staffing issues and related patient care. Nurses will be protected if they report issues surrounding inadequate staffing.

To a layperson, these regulations might seem a little tough; to us nurses, they aren't tough enough. Aside from research revealing the correlation between fatigue and patient error, research has also demonstrated what adequate nurse staffing can achieve. Studies show that in patient care situations where there are plenty of RNs and supporting staff, fewer patients fall, contract infections, receive errant medications, and die. It really is that cut-and-dry.

We need this bill! So I encourage you to support it in any way that you can. Nurses cannot be fatigued, and we definitely need our care centers adequately staffed with the right amount of RNs and support staff. The American Hospital Association predicts that we will have three-times as many seniors in need of medical care by the year 2030. We can't take care of any of them if we are too fatigued.

Please see the following links for more information on this important issue and related proposed congressional bill:

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