The American Nurses Association recently voiced their support for Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act (H.R.2530 and S.1113). This represents a broader movement towards supporting healthcare providers (HCPs) and stemming the ongoing nursing shortage. What does this law intend to accomplish? Will it succeed? This article covers all this and more.
What are the new staffing laws?
In short, this bill aimed to introduce minimum standards for patient-to-nurse staffing ratios that healthcare facilities must comply with. In doing this, Congress and the ANA hope to protect HCPs from overwork, fatigue, and occupational stress. At the time of writing, states like California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania implemented their own staffing ratio requirements on a local level. This will be the first legislation that implements a staffing minimum on a federal level. In this article, we will explore why Congress saw it fit to introduce such legislation, and whether this will make any changes to the quality of care for nurses.
Do better staffing ratios mean better healthcare outcomes?
Numerous studies point to some correlations between an adequate nurse to patient staffing ratio and better healthcare outcomes. One particular study evaluated patient outcomes in Queensland, Australia, before and after they implemented staffing ratio regulations. Around 232,000 patients were surveyed before recommended staffing ratios were put in place, and a little under 258,000 patients were evaluated after these changes. Research found not only drastically lower mortality and readmission rates with the latter, but significantly reduced operation costs as well. Since patients were readmitted less and their length of stay was shorter, hospitals did not have to invest as many resources per patient. The return of investment was notable, and positive.
Why do better staffing ratios mean better healthcare outcomes?
Healthcare is already a demanding job. Healthcare providers (HCPs) across the country must monitor patient condition, follow precise instructions, and stay composed while providing lifesaving physical and emotional care services. This workload is only compounded, when each nurse has to account for more patients each.
When you ask a nurse to provide complex care services to numerous patients at a time, within a single shift, the workload wears them out. As they become more stressed and fatigued, their focus drops. HCPs become more prone to lapses in judgment and irritability, which leads to more medical errors. As these mistakes pile up, so do the mortality rates. Conversely, HCPs will provide better outcomes if they are well-rested and handle manageable workloads.
Will the new legislation resolve the current healthcare shortage?
Right now, the healthcare industry is facing a significant shortage of HCPs. Per StatNews, it was predicted that half a million HCPs would leave the industry by the end of 2022. As healthcare providers leave due to work-related stress, while healthcare demand only rises (partially) thanks to a Baby Boomer demographic in need of additional healthcare services, the situation will only get worse. Healthcare staffing ratios is a step in the right direction, with regards to protecting HCPs and easing their workload. However, this alone will not be enough to quell concerns entirely. For the long term, investing in healthcare educators, flexible staffing arrangements, and retention incentives will be equally important, if the healthcare workforce wants to thrive well into the future.