Poll: Nurse-to-patient ratio law could address staffing crisis

A new poll indicates many MI nurses would be more likely to stay at their patients’ bedside if there was a law limiting how many patient's they're assigned.
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 11:38 AM EST
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MICHIGAN (WNEM) - A new poll indicates many Michigan nurses would be more likely to stay at their patients’ bedside if there was a law limiting the number of hospital patients each nurse could be assigned, according to the Michigan Nurses Association.

The poll, which was conducted by Emma White Research and commissioned by the Michigan Nurses Association, included registered nurses in Michigan.

The poll found 75% of registered nurses in Michigan, working in direct patient care, would be more likely to stay at the bedside if the state were to pass a law limiting the number of hospital patients each nurse can be assigned.

“Hospital understaffing of RNs was bad before the pandemic and has only gotten worse,” said Jamie Brown, critical care nurse and president of the Michigan Nurses Association. “The poll shows that this years-long trend has taken a toll on patients and nurses alike. Hospital executives cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. To truly address this staffing crisis, legislative action must be taken to hold hospitals accountable. This poll shows that nurses will continue to leave the profession until reasonable limits to the number of patients a nurse is assigned are in place.”

There is currently no law that sets a nurse-to-patient ratio in hospitals.

The Michigan Nurses Association said this lack of law leads to RNs having too many patients at one time and puts patients in danger. It also leads to nurses leaving the profession, the association said.

“I would certainly say that we’re experiencing a staffing crisis unlike anything I’ve seen in my 15 years of work in healthcare,” said James Walker, a nurse at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City.

Walker is also a Michigan Nurses Association board member. He said right now, a lot of nurses are sitting on the sidelines.

“Numbers I saw recently were that around 152,000 registered nurses in the state of Michigan, only about 102,000 of them are actually working right now. So that’s only two-thirds of the workforce at the bedside,” Walker said.

Walker said that is having an impact on patient care, which is why the MNA is urging lawmakers in Lansing to pass the Safe Patient Care Act.

“Safe staffing ratios at all hospitals in the state. As well as limitations on mandatory overtime, and transparency laws,” Walker said.

The Safe Patient Care Act, which would set limits on hospital nurses’ patient assignments, is currently pending reintroduction in the legislature.

“The ability for anybody to go to a hospital and know that when they go in that door, they’re going to get the care that they need, and there won’t be rationing of care would be incredible,” Walker said.

According to the poll, seven in 10 RNs working in direct care in Michigan say they are assigned an unsafe patient load in half or more of their shifts.

In addition, over nine in 10 RNs said this is affecting the quality of patient care, according to the poll.

“The number who say they know of a patient death due to nurses being assigned too many patients nearly doubled from 22 percent in 2016 to 42 percent this year,” the Michigan Nurses Association said of the poll results.

Nurses who were polled said requiring a set nurse-to-patient ratio could make a difference in retention.

“The staffing crisis will never be adequately addressed until working conditions at hospitals are improved. Making nurses take care of too many patients is irresponsible and will lead to nurses continuing to leave the bedside,” Brown said.

TV5 reached out to the Michigan Health and Hospital Association for a statement. Senior Director John Karasinski said:

The MHA does not support legislation that would institute government-mandated staffing ratios. The one-size-fits-all approach inherent in legislatively mandated decisions impacting clinical care typically fails to recognize the complexity of patient care and the diversity of healthcare environments. Studies have shown that nurse education and training — rather than a one-size-fits-all approach like mandatory nurse staffing ratios — are the most important factors when it comes to ensuring the delivery of high-quality patient care. The MHA is committed to working with nurses to improve retention rates, address burnout and increase the number of high-quality education programs and resources available to educate both new and current nurse professionals. The MHA believes hospitals need to have the ability to choose the staffing models that best fit the individual needs of their patients and communities.

The MHA and hospitals have demonstrated their commitment to improve retention rates, address burnout and increase the number of high-quality education programs and resources available to educate both new and current nurse professionals in a variety of ways.

Public Act 9 of 2022 appropriated $225 million to hospitals to allocate to their staff for the recruitment, retention and training of healthcare workers. Some hospitals fully accounted last June for all the of grant funding they were scheduled to receive to reimburse them for those costs and 69,000 healthcare workers benefitted from just the first half of the grant funding when it was distributed June 2022. In total, hospitals spent over $1 billion more in contact labor and recruitment and retention expenses in 2022 compared to 2020. The MHA also advocates for additional nurse training opportunities such as four-year BSN program offerings at community colleges (included in the FY 2023 state budget) and lowering the age for community college tuition through the Michigan Reconnect program, which provide funds for moving from a licensed practice nurse (LPN) to a registered nurse, or from a patient care technician certificate to LPN. Individual hospitals and health systems have also developed partnerships with local community colleges and four-year institutions to increase the number of nurses entering the field and joining their organizations.

The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percent. Click here to see the full report.

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