Minimum Staffing Levels: Essential for quality care

Healthcare Staffing, Nursing Shortage, Travel Nurses

As of January 1, 2008 California has implemented it’s historic safe hospital staffing law which states that every hospital must abide by certain ratios for every department within the care facility. These ratios have transformed hospital care and helped increase patient safety by ordering them to maintain minimum, specific nurse-to-patient staffing ratios for all hospital units at all times. The ratios vary from department to department, for example, 1:3 in Step Down, 1:4 in Telemetry and 1:4 in other Specialty Care units.

Now that California has shown that this can work, nurses elsewhere around the country are demanding the same of their states. The National Nurses Organizing Committee agrees that this is one effective way to quell the nursing shortages in hospitals around the country. Since the law has been in effect in California, some 80,000 have come into workforce, either returning or new. More lives are being saved, patient needs are fully assessed and nurses are staying at the bedside longer which in turn is reducing the effect of the shortage.

The hospital industry has tried to overturn the new laws, but the popularity among patients, nurses and communities is too strong. Nurses who have had experience with the ratio law have praised its effectiveness and nurses elsewhere reiterate the importance of having similar laws in their own states.
Not only does patient care increase, so does the workforce. “Before the ratios were enacted, we had complete turnover of our entire RN staff twice in three years,” said Trande Phillips, RN, Kaiser Permanente, Walnut Creek, CA. “We were always working short staffed and patients suffered. Now the only time nurses leave is if they are moving or going back to school.”

With the laws in place, nurses have more time to do their jobs properly. There’s time to fully check charts and do the patient and family teaching that is essential to avoiding future complications. I agree that this is a step in the right direction. However this is only part of the solution, there are still many factors to the shortage that must be addressed. It is a good start though.

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