Bipartisan support grows for law that would limit patient to nurse ratio in Pa.

Registered nurse Alisha Thiebert (C) cares for COVID-19 patients in a makeshift ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
TORRANCE, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 21: Registered nurse Alisha Thiebert (C) cares for COVID-19 patients in a makeshift ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Photo credit Mario Tama/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Burnout among nurses and hospital understaffing are being addressed in new bills before the Pennsylvania legislature. While this isn’t a new issue, there is new legislation aimed at dealing with it.

State Sen. Maria Collett, who represents Montgomery and Bucks counties, is sponsoring Senate Bill 240, the Patient Safety Act.

“Short staffing is the single biggest driver of nurse burnout and turnover. In the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s most recent licensure survey, the highest factor of job dissatisfaction was staffing, with 37% saying they were dissatisfied,” she said.

Collet, a former nurse, said the Patient Safety Act ensures better patient outcomes and safe “unit specific” staffing minimums — for instance, one nurse for every two patients in ICUs.

State Rep. K.C. Tomlinson of Bucks County is one of the House sponsors and said nurses should be treated with more respect for what they have endured — before and through the pandemic.

“They have held the phones so loved ones could say their final goodbyes through FaceTime, then held the hands of those taking their last breaths so they did not die alone,” Tomlinson said.

Unionized nurses across the state say fewer nurses and more patients is a dangerous mix.

Maureen May, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), said hospitals try to keep costs down and spread staff dangerously thin to save money.

But the result is nurses and patient care suffers, and COVID-19 is making it worse.

”Our workloads and stress loads have soared, while our staff numbers have decreased due to burnout and bottom line decisions made in corner offices located worlds away from the bedside,” May said.

May said last summer, Mental Health America surveyed health care workers to measure the pandemic’s effect on mental health and found that 45% of nurses — more than any other group of health care workers surveyed — said they did not have the emotional support that they needed.

May said the system that is supposed to support them is in crisis and, therefore, patient care is in crisis.

“Our nurses are tired and they are broken from a year that has tested us physically, emotionally, spiritually,” said Tarik Khan, president of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association.

“Chronic understaffing resulted in nurses who face dangerous physical and emotional tolls, longer shifts, and exhaustion, all of which leads to increased risks for medical errors,” he added.

The act is needed now, Khan said, because safe staffing isn’t only about nurses, it’s also about patients.

“So what does safe staffing mean for Pennsylvania citizens? It means decreased patient deaths, less adverse patient events,” he said.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images