In an effort to improve safety for patients and working conditions for nurses, the Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act of 2013 was introduced in Congress on April 30, 2013. According to the American Nurses Association (ANA) Safe Staffing fact sheet, nursing budget cuts and an increasing nursing shortage have led to unsafe nurse staffing decisions in many hospitals. Nurses are working with less help for longer hours and caring for sicker patients, which ANA believes "compromises care and contributes to the nursing shortage by creating an environment that drives nurses from the bedside."
The RN Safe Staffing Act was formulated with input from ANA, and it has sponsors from both major political parties. If the bill passes, hospitals will be required to form committees that will create nurse staffing plans by unit, taking into consideration number and condition of patients on the unit, experience of the RNs, availability of backup staff members, and technology resources. Among other things, the bill will also ensure that nurses aren't forced to work on units for which they don't have the appropriate education and experience.
According to ANA, focusing on safe staffing of hospital nursing units will help keep patients safe, retain experienced nurses, and cut costs. When nurse staffing levels are appropriate and balanced, patient outcomes improve. In fact, ANA says that "higher staffing levels by experienced RNs are linked to lower rates of patient falls, infections, medication errors, and even death." Appropriate nurse staffing levels also provide nurses with a more positive work environment, which encourages them to stick around.
Seven states have already enacted safe nurse staffing legislation at the state level (i.e., Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Washington), but a federal bill will push the issue forward. To read the American Nurses Association's full press release about the RN Safe Staffing Act, click here.