The issue of nurse-to-patient ratios (the maximum number of patients a single nurse can directly care for) has been a controversial topic for years, but it reached an unprecedented level of relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals in Pennsylvania were filled to capacity, and a handful of nurses might be exposed to dozens of patients with a highly communicable disease over a single shift.
This has not only made it more difficult for nurses to provide adequate care, but it has also put nurses’ lives at unnecessary risk. Had there been higher staffing levels, exposure to COVID-19 among nurses would be limited, ensuring a safer hospital setting overall. The struggle over nurse-to-patient ratios has been taken up by nurses unions, which are advocating for fewer patients per nurse with hospitals across Pennsylvania.
One issue that is both causing and an effect of nurse-to-patient ratios is burnout. Nurses, especially in public health facilities, are turning over much faster, and it’s harder for health departments to retain experienced nurses or recruit new ones. It has led to chronic short-staffing, which has only made nurse-to-patient ratios worse.
The Patient Safety Act
Bipartisan efforts to keep nurses and patients safe have resulted in the Patient Safety Act, which would enshrine nurse-to-patient ratios into law. The ratios would be determined by the department, organized by level of patient need. For instance, the ICU, the burn unit, and the critical care unit would have a minimum ratio of one nurse for two patients. Meanwhile, rehabilitation units would be limited to one nurse per five patients.
“Having patient safety standards protects our patients because how many patients we care for directly impacts how much care we are actually able to give to each patient. The problem is most hospitals don’t have these standards, and all nurses need them,” Myra Taylor, a nurse quoted in the Pocono Record.
Our firm would argue that this is not only a matter of patient safety, but nursing as well. When nurses spread too thin, it exposes them to far more risk. Diseases, occupational hazards, even fatigue can all contribute to serious injuries or illnesses on the job. These ratios aren’t just about saving patient lives, but nurses’ lives.
Our firm advocates for injured healthcare workers who’ve suffered due to COVID or other causes. If you want to know your options, call us today: (888) 498-3023.